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i didn’t get to say goodbye to my mom December 19, 2013

Posted by guinever in death.
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Not too long ago, my dad and I sat in the tiny hospital room facing my mother. Behind me, the discharge plans were written on the dry-erase board; we were waiting for a room at a local rehab center. My mom was being treated for pneumonia and she had been hospitalized for eight days. She was looking forward to going to a step-down facility so she could get moving and go home soon.  

Two doctors had visited earlier in the day, and both had said she was breathing better. One of them said he’d be back in the morning and they’d draw labs again–there were a couple numbers that didn’t look that great.

The physical therapist came after lunch. It was time for some leg lifts. With great exertion, my mom lifted her legs one at a time. I sat across from her, lifting my own to match her rhythm and counted the lifts. It was time to stand up from the chair and lie down on the bed so she could extend her legs; she had been sitting for so long.

That was it. She stood with the aid of a walker. She turned and backed up a couple steps. She sat on the bed. She went stiff and collapsed.

As the therapist guided her body so she’d stay on the bed, I went to the other side and leaned over my mother to press the call button. If I had looked at her face just then, I would have known she was gone and maybe the next 20 minutes would have been different.

But I didn’t look at her face. I just reacted. I ran into the hall; I knew this was a situation beyond the physical therapist, and we needed help.  (She thanked me later, by the way, for my quick response.) Soon, there was a  crash cart in the hallway and medical personnel filled my mom’s half of the small curtained-off room. They were working on her. I was not with my dad when the doctor asked him if he wanted them to continue the resuscitation. I was coming and going, in and out of the waiting room. Pacing. Breathing. Praying. Inhaling essential oil. Calling my husband.

I asked if I could see her. A nurse let me in. I looked at my mother’s face, her open eyes, and saw emptiness. Death.  I had stared death in the face before and this was it: life and soul and breath are no longer. Only a body is left, the person is gone.

I shouted, “Give Abby a kiss for me.” And then I left the room.  Yes, I shouted. Not that she could hear me if I shouted. But the room was so loud, loud with beeping machines and men giving orders. So I shouted.

I didn’t believe it. I went in the hallway and told my dad that on my drive the day before to visit them, I had imagined her dying peacefully, but this wasn’t how I had imagined it. This wasn’t peaceful. His response was that it was peaceful for her; it just wasn’t peaceful for us. I realized he was right and expressed my agreement.

Also, I didn’t believe she was gone yet because I thought I’d get to say goodbye. No one had told us she was going to die.  The doctor said he’d see her tomorrow. I just thought that sometime in the years to come, we would know her time would be short, and all the family would be there, singing and reading psalms and then we’d all say goodbye and have sweet words and then with a great Hallelujah, she’d enter heaven. Others have recounted stories like this. Why would ours be any different?

I didn’t get to say goodbye. No one did.

When my dad told me that the doctor had called it, that she was gone, peace flooded me. Might seem weird. But I knew her earthly struggles were over and she had been released from the pains of this earth. This peace continued for a couple weeks until I went back home and crashed. I stayed in bed for a few days and read Pride and Prejudice, only getting up to fix meals for my family and to start another load of laundry.

I thought of all the things that my mom was going to miss–the important events in my children’s lives: Alex’s graduation followed by that of his 3 siblings. Mary dancing the lead in a ballet someday. Soccer games. Debates. Weddings. Births of  her great-grandchildren. Holidays.

But most of all, she is going to miss our every days.

And I thought of my dad. alone. He didn’t get to say goodbye either.

I miss you mom. I know I’d miss you even if I did get to say goodbye…

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