Thursday, March 24, 2005

the hardest easy choice to make

the days are slowly stretching longer again. right now i'm sitting in my apartment's turret, looking over the streaming morning traffic. ah, unemployment. i love you. spring has finally sprung and summer, with its sweat, discomfort and smog, can't be far behind.

summer brings thoughts of my mother. she died july 8 about 4 years ago and her absence is a something i find extremely hard to fill. her death was sudden. actually, to be technically correct, the cerebral event that killed her brain that led us to decide to let her die was sudden. everything after that seemed to move in slow motion.

first there was the call from my father, his deep voice careful and pastoral even to his daughter. "Something has happened with your mother. I'm on my way with the ambulance right now. I've called your sister. She's alive but she's gone, baby. She's gone."

then there were the hours of waiting for the doctors. words like 'massive brain bleed', 'blown vessels', 'brain activity none' were floated. then there was another call. "We're going to have to make a decision," my father said. my sister agreed we had to make a decision. 2000 miles away i agreed. and so, like we'd done everything else we made this final decision - as a family. my father, sister and brother in law standing in the bright california sun outside daniel freeman hospital; i huddled in my chicago apartment, my roommate waiting on her cell phone with our firm's travel agent, getting ready to fly me back home. and i was the one who had to say it. "Yes. Do it. Shut if off."

and then the absolute worst week of my life unfolded from there.

throughout that week there was no one who didn't know what we had decided. even the doctors were taken aback. they expected us to dither in hope that her brain would suddenly come alive after blowing itself apart. but that was not where our hope was. my father's congregants asked us how we could decide what we did. how could we put into words the recoil we felt looking at a husk kept alive by a tube? what other choice was there?

this is what you think right before you decide to turn off your mother's life support: will she feel it? will she suffer? what if they're wrong? what if she wakes up tomorrow? what if she wakes up and she's a vegetable for the rest of her life? what will we do? how will dad cope? jesus. will she suffer if we turn it off? will she feel it? what if they're right? she's dead. let her go. she's dead.

the political circus that this family's ordeal has become is only part of the terry schiavo tragedy; greedy eyes peer into their lives and now we're all voyeurs. the larger tragedy is how destroyed their family is. we were fortunate; my family stepped closer to one another, hunkering down, closing the windows and shutting the lights. my sister and i have talked about this many times and we thought the same thing at the same time: dad can't live like this. that's what made our decision (and i'm pretty sure dad thought the same about us.)

it's trite and very Lifetime Television for Women to say it this way but it's 8.53 in the fricking morning and i haven't had coffee yet. by deciding to let our mother die we made a decision for the living. in the end, that's who our decisions are really for.


reverendmother said...

I am so sorry for your loss. My father died suddenly too, two years ago; we would have made the same decision, although there were no decisions to make.

This was all beautifully expressed. Where does our hope lie? I'll take resurrection over resuscitation any day.

ding said...

'resurrection over resuscitation'.

beautifully put. i love that.

Xpatriated Texan said...

Two very long months of my senior year in high school were spent watching my step-father die. He went into the ER on Christmas Day weighing 230 lbs. He was only 155 lbs at his death. I came to see death, not as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, but a dear friend with whom a game is played. Eventually, we will lose to him, but we can enjoy the time we spend losing.

Fortunately, most of the people in my life who have died have done so quickly. I pray that's the way I go. Resurrection over resuscitation? Definitely. I'm already promised one miracle. I don't need another.


Songbird said...

We've been so clear, on all sides of my family, about these questions, but I don't imagine that would make it any easier on the day of decision and in the days/hours of waiting.

Your Daddy said...

Oh what a week that was. You are so right "Churchgal". Your help was amazing over the phone. We all were crying remembering what we had decided long before that event; "when it is my turn, turn me off".. I shall speak these words on my site on live web cast for the rest of the week;"Resurrection Over Resuscitation". To put it biblically; "To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord."

Love you Baby!

Your Daddy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Songbird said...

Oh, I miss my daddy now!

OG said...

i dont even want to think about how painful that must have been for you as a family.
however its comforting to know that your mom knew God and she went to meet Him.
Lord knows id rather not have to make any decision like that, but if i do, i pray i will be as strong as u.

PPB said...

I've just found you, though Martha had mentioned you a while back. What a powerful, powerful story. Thank you for telling it.

ding said...

thanks you guys. and hey, how about my dad stopping by!

(which makes me feel like open house, back in elementary school. here's my dad looking at the picture i drew on the bulletin board.)

Giggle said...

This is very touching. Thanks for sharing it. I just lost my mother almost 2 months ago now but I consider myself lucky I didn't have to make such a difficult decision.

the reverend mommy said...

it is choosing life. I watched three grandparents die and both parents. It's not an easy decision -- it is agony. And I miss them, but know that I made good decisions that preserved dignity, integrity and life -- it's not the little "d" death that is the enemy -- it's the big "D" Death that was defeated on the cross.
Blessings to you today.

Anonymous said...

I found your comments looking for some guidance because we are making the same decision now -- for my mom -- who suffered a major stroke. She is in a coma and has major damage and most likely will not wake up, or if she does, she won't be able to talk or understand. She has a breathing tube and feeding tube. She wrote a living will asking us not to prolong her life in this situation. We are trying to honor that and we will take her off life support in the next few days. I know it is the right decision but I keep feeling plagued by doubts, what if she wakes up and comes back to her old self, even though the neurologist says that won't happen. It was all so sudden, one day she was fine, and now she is just lying in bed, not responding to anyone. Thank you for your post. It helps to read what other people have gone through.