The anniversary passed uneventfully. In fact, I was sleeping—or trying best I could, considering the circumstances—just as I’d been after one month, and two months, and each month since.
It was 2:58 a.m. when my mother died on August 25, 2016. That also happened to be my younger son’s 22nd birthday. Imagine the difficulty I had waking him early on his birthday morning to let him know his grandmother died unexpectedly as he slept.
Life is unfair like that.
And it’s unfair now. I’m sitting in a house half-full of my wife’s family, and we’re waiting on my mother-in-law to die.
I know that sounds harsh.
But it’s true.
Not quite two years ago, my wife’s mom became deathly ill. I don’t mean that in the manner many do when they say it because they have a bad case of the flu. Her body was lacking oxygen to the point that she nearly died. A few months later, we received the news we suspected but that everyone dreads hearing—she had cancer.
The past 20 or so months have been the proverbial roller-coaster ride, but now we’re about to pull back into the station. Determined to not give in easily, she’s out-survived all the professionals’ expectations. Shortly after the first of the this year, though, her primary cancer physician finally gave us a timeline: She had but a month or two left to live.
We knew this was coming, but no one wanted to admit it. The end-game in life is death; no one is immune. We just don’t know when or how it will happen.
In her case, however, we’ve narrowed that time down incredibly.
Still, she continued her treatments, twice weekly having extensive blood tests and, whenever the results indicated, receiving exhaustive infusions of blood, platelets or both. Last Monday, though, was her last.
That was the day she received her final unit of platelets and, through tears, was released by her cancer physician to the care of hospice. No more blood. No more platelets. No more tests. No CPR. No life.
And now we wait. Family and friends have been pouring in to see her one last time. My wife took advantage of a very kind employer and worked remotely this week while sitting and sleeping alongside her mom, clinging to a faint hope that perhaps a miracle will happen, but accepting the fate that these are her mother’s last days.
“She was there for me when I was born; the least I can do is be there for her when she dies,” she said through tears early the other morning. At the time, we were racing the 20 miles from our home to her mother’s while I silently and fervently prayed we would make it in time for her to say goodbye. “Your mama’s got a nosebleed,” her father said on the phone, his loud, baritone voice clearly audible from across the room.
I felt my wife’s heart rate triple from that same distance. It was the trigger we’d been dreadfully waiting for. Her lack of platelets means my mother-in-law will likely bleed to death. Something as simple as a nosebleed could be catastrophic.
We made it, thankfully. But it was different from all the other times I’d raced to the home of someone whose life was endangered. This time, there was nothing we could do. We were hurriedly trying to be there just to be there. To say goodbye. To tell her and show her we love her, so she will cross the bridge to the next life having just left the most love-filled environment imaginable on this earth.
That was only three mornings ago, but it feels like forever. Time tends to stand still sometimes when when you need it to. This is one of those times.
Today, the house will fill again with friends and family. For most, this will be their last time to see her. She will die soon; just not today, hopefully.
I say that in part because I can only imagine the trauma that would cause among a houseful of people; but also because I’m already having a tough time today, and I really need some separation to my grief.
My mom’s death was relatively sudden, and very unexpected. One Friday night, we were celebrating her and my stepfather’s wedding anniversary; the following Thursday she was gone. She started feeling bad on Sunday, worsened on Monday to the point that we called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. They discovered a blood clot had dislodged from her leg and landed in her lung, and her heart was struggling to force blood beyond it to the rest of her body.
The next couple of days seemed pretty standard. Mom was in ICU and they did the usual battery of tests and x-rays, gave her medication with the hope that it would dissolve the clot, and all the things they were supposed to do.
But she didn’t respond. Instead, her body systems started to shut down and fail because her heart couldn’t supply them with the oxygenated blood they needed to function.
On Wednesday, her caregivers decided it would be best to transfer her to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where they could tackle all her system failures at once. By that afternoon, we were in one of the critical care units there and she was being evaluated by a team of expert physicians and highly trained nurses. A plan was created and implemented.
As she was being returned to her room from a procedure that would allow the medical team to aggressively attack her problems, she crashed. From the waiting room, I sensed something was up when the hustle and bustle around her increased dramatically, but I never suspected this.
Eventually, the lead physician called us in to tell us what happened. She didn’t pull many punches, but she did give us a short-lived glimmer of hope, lasting only a few seconds until they frantically called her back into my mom’s room. Through the window, I could see them doing CPR.
I don’t know how much time passed—again, time stood still—but I spent that time clinging to a hope that she would pull through. That’s what you do when someone is dying—you give them the benefit of the doubt, hoping and praying the situation reverses and they survive.
But she didn’t, and at 2:58 a.m. on Thursday, August 26, 2016, I lost her. She was there to give me life, and despite the grief, I thank God I was able to be there when she lost hers.
Now, here we are. The conditions are different, but the outcome will be the same. Only now, we know there will be no pulling through. We are all sitting around visiting, laughing, eating and telling stories, and acting, to anyone not in the know, like a normal family (well, as normal as this family can be). But there’s one difference. We are doing all that in order to keep our sanity during one of the most unimaginably surreal and horrible times we could ever imagine.
That I am writing and experiencing this six months to the day since my mom died, however, is simply unbelievable.
There is an irony should my mother-in-law die today, and there’s sure as hell nothing I can do to stop that from happening. But for everyone’s sake—and mine, selfishly—I hope she holds on for at least a little longer.