She asked me to be “the one”. It was up to me to decide, whether to “pull the plug”. When your mom has the sex talk with you when you’re a pre-teen, its devastatingly embarrassing. When she has the death talk with you in your 20’s its just devastating.
“Please Denial”, I thought to myself “protect me from the awful truth. And please God, know that I fear I do not have the courage to face this”. She made clear to me a life on machines was no life at all. Heartbeats and breaths do not make a life. I agreed. I held her hand and reassured her I understood. And I did. But I made myself comfortable by convincing myself that I’d never actually be in a situation to make that call. And that made it easier for me to convince her that I had the internal grit to do it.
About a year before she died, she started talking to me about where she’d like her “things” to go. She didn’t want us kids fighting over trivial material things after she died. I told her I couldn’t talk about it and I was having a hard time with “it”- I couldn’t even name death. Denial. “You’re having a hard time with it?” she asked. “How do you think I feel? I have to wake up in this body everyday!” And like a glass of cold water tossed in my face, I woke up. I was feeling so bad for myself; I hadn’t once considered her sadness. I felt ashamed.
My mom had been dying for at least 5 years. Regular emergency room scares, followed by monitored hospital stays. They would stabilize her, and then send her home. As a family we would struggle to regain our footing, recalibrate and resume our lives. We kept busy and distracted, while my mother fought to keep living. She bravely masked an illness that dampened her bright & beautiful spirit and confined it in a body that was falling apart from the inside out.
My Dad retired early, trading a big chunk of his hard earned, and already thin retirement, for as many days as my mom had left. He took care of her day and night.
My brother, sister and I never discussed that she was dying. In silence, we all suffered that truth. We lived in parallels, traveling on the same path, but never intersecting or connecting. Collectively, we suffered alone.
Her last trip to the ER she was put on a ventilator. Connected to tubes and beeping apparatus, she couldn’t talk. She mimed with her hand the motion of writing, like asking for the check. She was asking for a pen. I handed her a black sharpie and stack of yellow post-its I had in my bag. She scribbled “no life” and looked me in square in the eyes, reminding me of the promises I made. It was both a plea and command. With love I nodded and understood. A day and a half later, she was unconscious. It was time. I called my family. We all stood ’round her bed, holding hands, shedding our tears. In that moment, I realized she that had asked us all to be “the one”, and by doing so, our paths finally merged. Together we set her spirit free and put the machines to rest.
This post was written for “Weekly Writing Challenge: I Remember” on The Daily Post. The prompt was to record the pain, the anger, the shame, the terror, and the hurt of your worst memory.