I flew home from Colorado and my roommate picked me up at the airport. We got to the turn off between my house and the hospital. Did I want to go see my mom tonight? she asked. It was late. Visiting hours were over. I didn’t feel like navigating the parking garage and other perceived hassles, so I declined.
“But if she dies tomorrow, don’t blame me,” I joked. Oh yes I did. That’s how far from my reality even the concept of a dead mom was. For 1/10 of a second I had that oogy feeling that comes right before a stranger yanks your purse from under your arm, or your car slams into a dump truck, but as quickly is as it came, it flitted away again.
The next day I called my mom as soon as I woke. She sounded great. “You must be tired from your big trip. Why don’t you go back to sleep?” she said. So I did.
Later, I gathered up some art books for her to look at, a camera to take pictures of us together, and headed out. I stopped at the McDonald’s across from the hospital. I did not rush. We had time.
As I walked down the hallway to her room, I could see a glassed-in smoking lounge straight ahead. Patients could still smoke inside in those days. I thought it was funny to see people clutching their IV poles in one hand, cigarettes dangling from the other. I heard one woman say, “She’s been doing that for a while; they’ll probably move her roommate out because she's so loud.” The others nodded in agreement, a silent Greek chorus.
I entered Mom’s room to loud moaning. Her head was in intense pain. Her eyes were closed. I reached out for her small, warm hand. To this day, even though her voice is lost to me, I remember the feel of her hands, the smoothest I’ve ever felt.
Without opening her eyes, she said, “Oh, Anna, you’re here. I’m sorry I’m being such a chicken liver. It just hurts so much.” I assured her that she wasn’t chicken, but I was glad her eyes were shut, because mine were full of tears.
Her roommate was moved out of the room. Someone tried to find her doctor, but he was not reachable. Anywhere. Did doctors golf on Tuesdays? Would he ever come? Now it was only the two of us.
I didn’t have much faith in the Doogie Howser interns who came to check her every once in a while. Was there a real doctor in the house? Did these people even give a shit?
My father appeared, having been called at work by someone. Was it me? My mother opened her eyes and said to him, “You have been so good through all of this.” These words--her last-- were, I believe, her gift to him. A comfort he could pull out of his pocket and remember later, when he most needed to. She’s so damn classy, I remember thinking, to reach out to someone else when she was in such pain.
Something changed. She grew quiet. A good sign? Another person, still not her doctor, checked her eyes.
My dad and I walked to a waiting room to discuss life support. Everything was happening so quickly. Of course she would not want to be, as people said so callously in those days, “a vegetable.” I smiled at my dad through my tears, wanting to comfort him, wanting him to know he didn’t have to worry about me.
Inside, my mind raced. Didn’t people come out of comas, like 10 years later, finding their children grown and their clothes out of date, but none the worse for the wear? Was there hope? Should we DO something?
I wanted to fight for her, but I didn’t really know what that meant, and I felt small and tired. I mean, if I hadn’t wanted to deal with a stupid parking garage, how could I be strong enough to defy a doctor’s recommendation and demand she be put on life support?
I hugged my dad. I said nothing.
We returned to her room, joined by one of our ministers, maybe two. We prayed around her bed as her breathing became loud and labored. I wanted to shout: “Walk AWAY from the light! Stay with me!” But that seemed weird, and embarrassing, and vulnerable, so I joined hands with the others and silently prayed for peace.
And we stood for a very long time, saying nothing, as her breathing got slower and slower…and stopped.
I gathered the unopened art books, the camera, and went home.
I truly believe a mom wants what's best for her kids, whether they are 4, 18, or 40. So in sharing what happened on that sad, strange, horrible day, I have regrets, but I am not paralyzed by them. Why? Well, what mom would want that for her kid? Not mine.
You were right, Mom. I did have a life and I did have things to do. But Mom, you also were my life, and I’m pretty sure you know that too.