Monday, February 15, 2010
I had a nightmare last night, one which was all too real because it had actually happened. My Mother died. In the dream she was in the hospital, recuperating from surgery. She knew she was very ill but was in good spirits, even when the doctors broke the news to her that she wasn't going to make it, that she needed to make a decision about how to proceed from here. My beautiful, strong mother chose to let go. She climbed into bed, said goodbye to all of us, chastised us not to cry, that she was done with her life and ready to move on. Then she smiled and passed away. Peacefully.
As sad as the dream was, the reality was so much worse. Yes, she was in the hospital recuperating from surgery, very weak. We thought she was going to come through ok, had been taken off the ventilator and was talking to us, joking about the fact that Beren was visiting her even though he abhors hospitals and will never step foot in one. Then something went wrong. Her heart started racing, the medical team stepped in, working to get her heart rate down and stabilized. She was panicked, begging for help. Realizing that our presence was exciting her more, we left her room, under the care of the professionals, my father at her side, promising to return once she was feeling better. The last words she said to me were, "Don't forget to come back." I never saw my mother awake again.
They put her back on a ventilator, heavily sedated, in a coma-like state. We gathered around her, still hopeful that just needed some more time to rest, that she would wake up and be strong enough to continue to fight the cancer that was ravaging her body. That illusion was shattered by the doctor who pulled us aside and told us it was time to let go. That in addition to everything else her poor body had been through, she had also suffered a heart attack. Her lungs were not able to breathe without the ventilator, that their only option was to do a tracheotomy and did we really want to put her through that? The cancer was spreading, unbeknownst to us, had now been found in her spine. We met with her oncologist who confirmed what the ER doctor had reported. We then met with a "end of life" specialist who strongly encouraged us to let her go.
At this point our whole family was there - all of my children, Beren and even my ex-husband who was there to support his daughters. We asked for time, we needed to discuss this. We trudged down to the chapel where we sat in the pews and listened to my father, tears in his eyes, tell us what he thought, and ask for our opinions. One by one we gave him the ok. Yes, we should let her go. No, it wasn't an easy decision by any means but at the time we felt it was the right thing to do.
They took her off the ventilator assured us they would keep her comfortable, that without the machine breathing for her she would not last much longer, maybe 8 to 12 hours. Beren and I ran home, gathered pillows and blankets, take-out food for all of us, and then we waited. My whole family camped on the cold hospital room floor, catching moments of sleep, taking turns holding my mother's hand, talking to her, comforting each other, believing that her fight would be over in a few hours. Yet it wasn't.
My mother lasted for 3 and a half more days. Long enough to transfer her to a Hospice room, long enough for my aunt and cousin to fly down from Ohio. Long enough for all of her close friends to visit, for us to gather all of the photo albums we owned and create a slideshow of her life so that everyone who entered the room could see her as she was, a vibrant, beautiful woman, so full of life and love. She stayed with us long enough for us to wonder...did we do the right thing? Maybe she'll come out of this, maybe we should reduce the pain meds and see if she wakes up, starts breathing on her own. After all, the medical staff was incredulous, couldn't believe she was still hanging on. "She's a very strong woman," they repeated time and time again. So, we wondered: without our intervention, would she have been strong enough to survive this? Was she alive because she wasn't ready to go? Were we preventing her from coming back?
The doubts, the uncertainties continued yet none of us had the nerve to voice them to each other. Maybe we knew in our minds that it was impossible to do anything different, that even if she came through this crisis she would never be the same. The cancer was going to take her one way or another, her days ahead would only be filled with more pain and suffering. We knew this intellectually, and yet...
To this day I am haunted by the possibility that maybe we didn't do the right thing. Tormented by the fact that my mother didn't get to make this decision for herself. Sickened by the thought that maybe she would have chosen differently, that maybe she was, is angry with me for "taking her life." I wonder sometimes if it was a selfish, not selfless, act that I did. Was it that I didn't want her to suffer any longer or was it about me? Was it that I couldn't take the pain anymore? Did I hurry along the inevitable because it was just too hard for me?
These are the thoughts that go through my mind, a year after her death. These are the things I pray about, in my own way, the conversations I have with her at the grave, asking for her understanding, begging for a sign from her that we did the right thing, that she is at peace, that she loves me and will see me again soon. That she forgives me for what I did to her. I never get that sign..or do I?
Is is possible that she is speaking to me through the dream I had last night? That she is happy, that we did the right thing and she is admonishing me to "stop with the guilt" as she used to say to me. I can only hope and believe that the haunting will eventually fade away, that someday I will come to terms with all of it and find my own peace of mind and heart.