There is no shortage of tragedy in my life. Sadly, for that reason, I’ll probably always have a “story that must not die” in my arsenal. This is not a badge of honor. A lot of us here feel the same way.
Perhaps this is why we are able to help the storytellers that visit us here. We are no strangers. Through these experiences, we may have picked up some tips along the way.
One set of pain or trauma there is no handbook for, is the loss of a loved one.
I have never been able to write about you. It’s just too damned difficult. I’m doing this today, not for me, for you, or for my sister, but for two women who mean just as much to me that recently lost someone they love.
July had never been eerie to me until that night. It was like I knew what was going to happen. How could I possibly know that? I still don’t know. Somehow, I sensed the tremendous blow before it hit. I even remember saying to family “Something just doesn’t seem right. This isn’t going to end well.”
My mother had gone in for what was explained to us as a “routine procedure” but what resulted was anything but.
She was supposed to have a portion of her stomach removed. The need for surgery was due to a bleeding ulcer that had been plaguing her for some time. The procedure was scheduled for the following morning. After all of the doctor visits, prescriptions, hospital stays, something ominous told me this would be the last one.
At 1AM we got a phone call. When the phone rang, I knew what it was, and I knew it was something bad. The nurse on the other end frantically pleaded for my grandfather to come up to the hospital. He then relayed the message to me. We didn’t stop to talk; we just quickly cleaned up, got dressed, and left.
When we got there, I was met by my aunt who had a look of deep concern on her face. This is a woman who I frequently credit with being my “cool aunt” never seeming down or sad, or frustrated. That night, though, I saw all those emotions and then some.
We walked into the room only to find my mother thrashing away, eyes open, but somewhat mentally and certainly vocally unresponsive.
The hospital staff mostly had an attitude of “We don’t know what happened.” I do remember one or two nurses looking at our family with feelings of empathy. One even covered her mouth and had to step away. She thought no one noticed her but I did. My eyes followed her as my family was all surrounding my mother. She walked up to another nurse, obviously a friend and said “She’s just so young. She has children, look at this poor family. I just can’t do this.” She soon after left the building.
What we were told is my mother was rapidly losing blood internally. The doctors had no answer for what caused it. At first, they were giving her transfusions right and left. They had asked us to step outside. Then, they realized she was losing blood faster than they could replace it. The mood shifted from focus and concern among the doctors to a “there’s nothing we can do” type of movement.
That’s exactly what we were told. “There’s nothing more we can do.” I could feel the hope around us shattering, from each relative, one by one.
I started to replay the night before over in my head. I remembered speaking to her on the phone and her not making sense. Even though I just chalked it up to being overmedication, I thought it was strange. Her last words to me were “I love you.” Flash forward less than 12 hours later, and she is unresponsive, convulsing, and fighting for her life.
As I started to have a psychological meltdown in the IC unit’s hallway, I was interrupted by my grandfather, who asked that I go spend a moment with her.
I walked up to her bedside. There was blood everywhere; all over the sheets. I barely noticed it then, but it’s etched in my mind now. I took her hand and held it. It was the most beautiful and painful moment of my life at the same time. It was beautiful because I felt her. I don’t mean feeling in the physical sense. I mean I felt her “life force”. I felt her holding on and fighting to stay here, all just by holding her hand. Physically, it felt like how she felt when she didn’t want to do something. Like when someone digs their heels into the ground as a last ditch effort to stay put. It was painful because, although I knew she was “unresponsive” by medical terms, I knew her spirit was still very much there, but it wouldn’t be soon, and neither would her body—and I had to say goodbye.
So, I kissed her hand. I told her I loved her, and proceeded to lose it, while I walked out of the room. The rest of my family stayed with her. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t bear to watch the person I loved most on this Earth slip away. So I stepped outside, and I called the only voice that made any sense.
I lit up a cigarette. I cried and shook my head. People coming and going all did their best to avoid the young girl clearly having a breakdown out front. I found a dark green bench and sat while the phone rang. First time there was no answer. A warm breeze snapped me out of my crying for a second. Breezes are not so common in July, so I quickly took notice. The breeze brought my attention to a little patch of land where some stray kittens were playing out by the side of the hospital. The breeze started whipping through the trees in that direction and the tiny kittens all looked up. I watched the kittens looking up to the tops of the trees behind them and I had a strange, quiet moment of understanding. That breeze then took off through the trees and went through me, and with it, a group of birds darted outward.
A Somber Morning
My grandfather came outside right after that. He lit up a cigarette too. He explained how this was too much for him to deal with as well. That was, after all, his daughter lying in there. As we tried to process, my uncle came downstairs to get us.
“You’re gonna wanna come upstairs.” He said, with tears lining his eyes.
She was dead. At 9:35AM, on her birthday, July 1st, 2005, a light brighter than any of us had ever known burnt out.
A very large piece of me died with her that morning. It was the start of PTSD, though I didn’t know it at the time. I spent the following two years completely numb, plagued with addiction, and suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t until 2007 I started to pick up the pieces.
That piece of me is still gone, but scraps of it have been rebuilt with paper, paint, and stitches.
~For Goldy and Rara~