The following is a story I received from a dad that experienced two losses over a 2 week period. First his mom and then his daughter. This is part 1 of a 3 part series. As he puts it “in about a month-and-a-half, I cremated my mother and buried my daughter”
I had been working on finishing the basement and kept getting interrupted with calls of how mom’s either a little better or a lot worse. Swine flu put her in the hospital for two weeks in November. She was sent home on oxygen for a week or so, and then had to go back in the hospital with pneumonia. I got to the point where I yelled to no one in the basement, “Don’t call me again unless she’s getting better or clearly dying.” I should have been more careful what I asked for, because on December 28th, 2009, I received the call from her doctor. “We need you to make a decision,” he said. Mom had been on a ventilator for two weeks and the hospital gave me two options: 1. Give her a tracheotomy for her ventilator and start a feeding tube and move her to a nursing home and wait to see if she gets better in a couple of months, or 2. Take her off the machines and see what happens. Mom had long said that she did not want to be kept alive by machines, so I figured I’d take her off them, but I wanted to see her and evaluate her condition myself in person. I spoke briefly with mom’s boyfriend about the situation, and he seemed prepared for me to fulfill her wishes to not be kept alive by machines, no matter what the likely (and inevitable) costs.
I was using the shop vacuum cleaning up the basement when my wife got home. I was wearing hearing protection so I didn’t hear her until she yelled at me just to get my attention. Like a royal asshole, I threw down the vacuum nozzle, shut off the vacuum, and yelled, “What!?!” She was just trying to let me know she was home. I told her, “I got the call,” and she asked if mom had died. I said, “No,” but that I had a decision to make and that I needed to go to Kansas City to decide what to do. We talked about whether she and our son should come with me and looked at the internet for flights and prices. I didn’t really want her (being 21 weeks pregnant) and my son exposed to hospital germs anyway, but she wanted to be there for me. I found one ticket far cheaper than I could get per ticket for two on the same flight and didn’t want her exposed to all the stress either, so we decided I would go alone. By the time I reserved my flight for 8 p.m. and reserved a rental car, I was left with one hour to prepare and pack. I was on time to the airport with time left to spare, so I went to the club lounge for a snack and to try to relax.
I arrived in Kansas City about 10 p.m., got my bag, and selfishly went straight to my hotel to check in. I then dropped my stuff in the room and headed for the hospital. I arrived in mom’s room in the intensive care unit at almost exactly 11 p.m., December 28th, the same day I got the call. My decision wasn’t quite as obvious as I had hoped. When I saw mom, she did not look like herself. She was fat like me, and she just looked like a swollen blob. The skin on her hands was stretched so tight I was almost afraid to touch them. But still, she only looked a bit uncomfortable. I quickly figured out, though, that she was miserable. She was (I think) both glad and relieved to see me. She could not talk because of the ventilator, but I could communicate with her some. As soon as she became fairly lucid, she started swiping her left hand from right to left. It was something she had always done when she was talking about wanting something to stop. I asked her several times if she wanted the tubes out, and she nodded yes every time. Then, she would pat my hand and open her mouth trying to say, “It’s okay. It’ll be okay.” Removing the tubes was what she wanted. So, I told mom’s nurse around 2 a.m. that I had made the decision to remove the tubes. She asked if it could wait till “morning,” and I said yes. At some point, I told the doctor, and he warned me that her death might not be pretty, but violent in her gasping and fighting for breath. Sometime around 10 a.m., I finally got to speak with mom’s primary doctor. I told her my decision, and she warned me that mom might die quickly in a somewhat violent manner gasping for breath or that she could hang on for a week or more, but that if I removed the tubes mom was going to die. I told the doctor I was prepared for either and my decision stood, so she started the process. About two hours later, mom’s respiratory doctor finally came in to remove the tubes. Mom seemed awake, aware, and relieved that they were taking out the tubes. As soon as they came out, the respiratory doctor put mom on oxygen. She breathed in her mask like she had just walked up a flight of stairs, and with every exhale said, “Water.” It was 12 p.m. After what seemed like far too long, the nurse came with a cup of water and some swabs. As soon as the nurse swabbed mom’s mouth, she felt better and stopped repeating, “Water.” Then later, mom started asking for water again, and my biggest regret is not simply getting the cup and swab and giving her some water myself. Eventually, mom stopped talking and her breathing slowed, and at 2 p.m., she went to sleep for the last time.
I spent the rest of the week going through mom’s stuff, and taking care of business. Mom always said two things about her death: 1. “Do whatever’s cheapest,” and 2. “I don’t want any funeral or service or viewing or anything. If they can’t come see me when I’m alive, they don’t need to see me when I’m gone.” Per her wishes, she was cremated on Thursday, December 31st, 2009, with no viewing or funeral.
I flew home Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 first thing in the morning. On Sunday, after discussing it with my wife, I decided to take another week off to recover from mom’s death. Little did I know that more tragic events were about to unfold in the days ahead.