By Kenya Transtrum
I wish I could say I don't remember, but the thing is, I do. I remember when I'm sitting outside looking at the blood-red roses or at night when the skies turn deep purple. My dreams are filled with shuffling feet, swirling colors and barking orders. "She's not breathing! Turn her over! Suction! Bag her!"
When my father died he slipped away peacefully with all of his family silently weeping around his bed. I was holding his hand. At the very last seconds he opened his eyes. They were bright and alert. He looked at a corner on the ceiling and smiled and his smile was so joyful I looked to see what had caused it. It was nothing my mortal eyes could see. And then he was gone, the hint of that smile still on his face. Although I was heart-broken at his passing, it was satisfying. If he was smiling, I knew he was going to a wonderful place.
A dozen years later I stood in the ER as my mother, surrounded by chaos and confusion and riddled in pain, stopped breathing. Her room was not filled with loved ones hovering near whispering their 'I love yous'. She was alone with no hand to hold. I was alone with no one to look to for comfort. My father's death had been expected for hours; my mother just stopped breathing.
The day before we had been out to lunch together. We sang in the restaurant, quietly of course, laughed at jokes and talked about my children and grandchildren, her beloved treasures. She had errands to run, things to do, so she briefly stopped at my house to pet my dog, Cleo, and then ran out the door at 1 PM to finish her day. Twenty-four hours later I arrived at the hospital right behind the ambulance.
It was a very busy day in the ER. Although my mother was critical, it took nearly 3 hours for the doctor to see her. In that amount of time, things had gone from critical to grave and my mother's worn-out little body could take no more pain. The death rattle was heard, blood came out of her mouth and I knew she was gone.
And then the dream began. I stepped away from my mom. Nurses and doctors filled the tiny enclosure. I watched and listened as if I were a casual observer. Even as I watched, I noticed the numbness, the lack of hysteria, the utter calm I felt. And I wondered about it. What's wrong with me? My mother is now turning purple and I am calm. I watched patiently as they cared for my mother, suctioning blood out of her airway, bagging her for oxygen, checking for pulse and breathing. When a nurse asks for the suction I even step in to hand it to her. And I am back to my job of watching. It only takes minutes from start to finish. My mother begins to breathe again.
It doesn't matter. In my mind, this will always be the day I watched my mother die. It will also be the day that will haunt me for another reason. Why was I so calm? Why did I feel so emotionless as I watched? I have thought of all the reasonable reasons: I was in shock, it hadn't hit me yet, so much was happening, I didn't really believe she was dying. But the truth is, had that been my husband or one of my children, I can tell you my heart would have been all over the place.
So, as many daughters do, this will be another secret I keep from my mother. In her eyes, I was dutiful and loving to stand by her bedside for 12 hours that day. She needn't know that I am not so sure.