Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Remembering The Day My Mother Died...

I had wanted to try to sleep in. Even after a full week of being in the Central Time Zone, my body still yearned for Pacific Standard Time. And I had yet to face the nearly 5 hour drive back to the airport, alone in my rental car, mindlessly trying to keep myself from becoming mesmerized by the miles and miles of flat, fields as I crossed the open plains.

"Mom wants you!" my sister said, knocking rather frantically on my bedroom door. I was sleeping in the same room I had been allowed to decorate myself when I was only 12...my childhood, pastel-blue walls with blue and white shag carpeting. This room was directly off the dining room and I had been listening faintly to the sounds of my sister and my mother making breakfast in the kitchen. I knew my sister was a bit on the uneven side, being 9 months pregnant and due to deliver any day.

"Linda, get up! Mom needs you!" This time she was knocking and turning the handle to my door which, even as a child, she knew would be locked...this was how I kept from lying awake nights as a teen...not having to worry about monsters and boogey men getting through that door.

"Just a minute...geez...give me a minute. What's the matter?" I said, offended by the intrusion.

"I don't know. Get up. Mom needs you. She's sick or something." My sister stayed at my door, obviously unsure what to do on her own other than to follow my mother's instructions and retrieve me from my bed.

I got up and found my slippers jammed under the lion's claw dresser in my room, still peeved to be awakened by such frenetic energy. "Must be the pregnancy", I mumbled under my breath. My sister was always known for her somewhat *high strung* emotions, but pregnancy only served to heighten this phenomenon.

I unlocked my bedroom door and emerged to the bright, winter light reflecting off the sliding glass doors leading out from the dining room. "She's in there!" my sister half shouted, pointing into the living room.

"OK", I said with miffed tone, as if to say, "Chill out, girl before you pop that baby right now." But I didn't dare even mutter that last sentence out loud. I knew better than to take on a raging, hormonal sibling.

The sound of my mother vomiting began to reverberate off the walls in the living room. I felt a sudden hint of alarm. My mother was NEVER sick and rarely if she was, she would NEVER sit in her own living room vomiting. I picked up my pace and rounded the doorway leading into the living room. My mother sat staring blankly from the couch, her eyes glassy, and holding a wash basin. She didn't even notice I had come into the room.

I knelt in front of her just as she vomited again into the pan. The force of her stomach emptying was violent and appeared painful. I recognized this symptom immediately and I felt my heart rate rise quickly and flutter in my chest. Projectile vomiting...a symptom often accompanying head injury.

"Mother! What's wrong? What's happening?" I asked her, still not wanting to believe what I was witnessing and what I sensed was about to occur.

Her gaze slowly lowered, staring in my direction, but she did not appear to register my face. "I don't know", she said faintly. "I don't know." Her final sentence trailed off as her head slumped forward onto her chest. These were the last words she ever spoke to me.


The rest of this Sunday morning on February 11, 1997, will forever remain a blur. It is probably best that my memory has served to protect me in the only way it knows how...to forget.

I remember yelling at my sister to call 911 and for my brother-in-law to come quickly into the living room to help me carry my mother from the couch where she sat and lay her on the floor. I checked her pulse. It was faint and thready. She was no longer breathing.

I remember telling her, "Mom, open your eyes," as if commanding her to do so would somehow stop the rush of blood that was pouring from the vessel in the back of her head into her brain...blood that pooled out of sight, slowly saturating vital tissue. Aneurysms heed no verbal commands.

I remember breathing for my mother when she couldn't...repeatedly checking her pulse and demanding it stay present, while my own pulse pounded in the temples of my forehead.

I remember what seemed like an eternity before the volunteer fire department arrived, uprooted from their own Sunday rituals, to rush to my mother's side.

I remember pleading with Marlin, a man I knew from my childhood, begging him to take over..."I can't do this, Marlin. Please. I can't do this."...he slid beside my mother without a word and took over the rescue breathing while awaiting someone to grab the ambu bag out of the tackle box.

I remember helplessly pacing in the hallway of the tiny community hospital emergency room, some 15 miles away from my mother's home, while hearing and watching a rush of activity coming and going from the trauma room where my mother was now laying still and lifeless.

I remember rubbing my own sternum so deeply, I managed to rub the skin raw on the bone in anxious self-comforting. I held the damp wash cloth to my face that had been on my mother's forehead, smelling the faint scent of her perfume.

I remember taking the doctor aside and telling him NOT to tell my sister what I already knew to be true...telling him to just say he didn't know the prognosis...and the doctors at the medical center where she was being transported by Life Flight would know more. He looked away from me when telling my sister this and I could see his eyes had welled up with tears. He had known my mother for many years.

I remember the sound of the helicopter landing, whirling blades that would eventually swallow up my mother and carry her 100 miles away.

I remember trying to rush in the car, following highways that would lead to the city. My mother had already been moved to a room in an Intensive Care Unit by the time I made the land travel of 2 hours.

I remember the first neurologist, the first EEG, the nurses bathing my mother, the breathing tube in her mouth, the multitude of people arriving and going, shaking my hand and looking very serious.

I remember being awake for 3 days...going between the labor and delivery floor where my sister now was bedded down, then back to the ICU, then calling the hospital where my father rested, not knowing his wife's condition.

And I remember other things I'd like to forget.
But mostly I remember fondly that final week I got to spend with my mother, laughing, enjoying food together, talking about people in my home town, seeing her sense of relief to have me there handling the transfer of my father to a nursing home, and just being the daughter she was secretly proud of...the daughter she wrote about in her letters to my aunts...the daughter who never knew her mother's pride until the letters were shared many months after her death. She needed me during that week, which was why I left Seattle in the first place...she needed me in those final moments when she didn't "know" what was happening to her. She could not have anticipated needing me when I held her hand and watched the machines that kept her body alive shut down.

She also needs me now...to remember the day my mother died...so that I might always remember to have compassion in my heart for others...


Tricia said...

Such a sad memory - but very nice that you had that last week with her and that you were there.

Anonymous said...

It is quite emotional, brushing up against the truth of something so delicate as a mother's death. Having lost my own mother years ago, it pulls at my heart. ~Mary

harkoo said...

What a horrible clustering of events. You are lucky you had the happy memories of that week. I am glad you held her hand at her end. Your memories will be in my heart...

Kelley said...

What a beautifully written tribute to your mother. May you have peace today, knowing how proud she was of you and cherishing your last week with her.


Susan said...

Oh my, how wonderfully written and expressed Linda. I am so sorry for your loss and pain. I am sure the gift of happy memories, especially shared in that precious last week together, keep her close and alive in your heart.

Denver Refashionista said...

I hope that writing this story gave you some of the catharsis you needed. Thanks for sharing.

Webster said...

A very nice tribute to your mother about a day you will never forget. I am glad for you that those letters were revealed to you. And the sub-story you hinted at, the birth of your niece or nephew, makes it a real circle of life tale.

have myelin said...

Beautiful. I can't say more. My own mother is here with me right now and I am cherishing every moment.

You made me think about my mother even more than I am thinking about her and I am thinking of her a lot already.


TickledPink said...

You made me cry.

My mom is still with me, but I held my father's hand as he died nearly nine years ago now.

I'm not sure if knowing it was coming (cancer) made it any harder or easier than something so out of the blue as your mother's death was.

Any way you cut it, death is not easy to accept. Especially the death of a parent, I think.

I remember holding Daddy's hand as he died. My mom and my sister and I all sang "You are my Sunshine" to him, the same way he'd sing it to me when I was little and sad. We tried to ease his fright and be with him...but it's ultimately a trip you make on your own.

What a beautifully written tale of sadness, Linda. You have a gift. I know your mother is proud.