Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Day My Mother Died

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.


Anne Bradshaw said...

Seems like we all go through these experiences in a different way, Kenya. And having gone through it once with your father, I'm sure it built within you a small step up the ladder of what to expect.

Maybe your mother was somehow caring for you (the way mothers do) as she slipped beyond the veil--enough for you to sense the peace she felt.

Thanks for sharing this tender moment in your life.

Candace Salima (LDS Nora Roberts) said...

Our reactions during emergencies and massive amounts of stress are not ones we could possibly ever anticipate.

The last breath my father ever drew was heard over the baby monitor. I'd just checked on him and stepped into the living room. I heard that death rattle and asked "What was that?" to my mother before spinning back toward the bedroom. What I'd heard was my father's last breath. My mother and I checked his pulse, checked his breathing, checked everything and unbelievable as it was, he was gone. We stood there, tears rolling down are faces, but holding his hands and just looking at him. I noted the time of death and then it was a few more minutes before I called the home health nurse.

I would have thought I'd been sobbing hysterically. But I didn't. That didn't happen until I returned to Utah a couple of months later.

Don't be hard on yourself, you did nothing wrong.

Lori Nawyn said...

When my grandmother died on Christmas Day, part of me died as well yet I pressed on. I had guests to greet, food to cook, etc. Afterward, I felt it might have been more appropriate to put a closed sign on the front door and have a break down. But that's not what she wouldn've wanted.

Josi said...

I agree with Anne, I think your mother came and calmed you for just a moment. Sounds like a horribly surreal moment. when it comes to the two worlds touching, there aren't a lot of answers.

Janet Jensen said...

We simply can't predict how we'll function in a crisis. We can surely be at our most vulnerable, or the reaction can be delayed. I hope you can forgive yourself for having doubts, knowing that your mother has.

I have lost both parents, too, and wasn't with either of them when they passed away. Time and time again I hear of people who die alone, just when the family leaves the room for a moment, as if that's how they want to do it. Hard to understand how it all comes together. But the loss is immense.