As we approach the second anniversary of my mom’s passing, it’s again a time for reflection, remembrance, and preparing myself for what will always be a highly emotional occasion. If you haven’t experienced it, it must be hard to imagine what it’s like, watching one of the people you love most in the world leave the world. This is my story – the night we said a final farewell to my mom, and how we’ve coped with losing her.
I stood at the foot of my mom’s hospital bed, watching as my sister stroked Mom’s hair and kissed her goodnight. There were machines around the bed – medicines dripped through IV lines and various colored lights shone through the dimly lit room. Beeps and alarms randomly permeated the otherwise quiet ICU floor.
I slid my hand down Mom’s left leg to her foot and then crossed my arms before turning to join my sister on the way out the door. I stopped just before I walked out, turned back to my mom and said: “Goodnight. Love you.” A faint “Love you” left my mom’s lips and came back to me.
Little did I know when I turned to leave that those would be her final words to me.
A few hours later, at 1.30am, the hospital called asking if they could intubate my mom. The pneumonia was taking over her right lung and she was struggling to breathe. After I gave permission, I hung up the phone and spent the night counting the hours until we could return to see her in the ICU.
Sadly, when we got there, the news wasn’t good – in fact, it couldn’t have been worse. Mom was 100% dependent on the ventilator and no longer able to breathe for herself. The family was called in, many driving the four hours from Dallas to be with her – with us – for her final moments. My brother requested that we didn’t prolong the inevitable. It wasn’t what our mom would have wanted – we knew he was right.
And so it was that just after noon on Friday, August 11, we agreed to switch off the ventilator. All the family members who were there gathered around to sing songs of praise as my mom took her final breaths. The doctor called the official time of death as 12.52pm; my dad, perhaps not realizing or not wanting to believe it was true, broke. Our lives changed forever.
We discovered, in the following days, just how far my mom’s love for others had stretched – how many people she had touched. We were inundated with messages, texts, calls and cards. We heard stories of my mother’s life, shared by friends and family – some we knew, but others we had never heard. Knowing our mom as we did, none of them surprised us.
We shed many tears then, as we have over the past months; we know even more will be shed in the days, weeks, months and years to come. But we have also laughed. We did our best to celebrate her life as we mourned her loss. We danced to her favorite songs and rejoiced in our memories of her. My mom loved to dance. She had an infectious laugh that could brighten an entire room. She loved being the center of attention and her personality drew others to her.
I was told repeatedly how much I look like my mom, and now I can see it myself. Before she died, Mom posted a side-by-side photo of her own mom (my grandmother) and my 12-year-old daughter, Jaci. I was struck by how alike they looked; I’d never have noticed it otherwise.
As we looked through tons of old pictures, I could see more and more of Joeli, my youngest, in my mom. The same freckles. Her hair. Her smile. It still hurts to look in the mirror and my mom looking back at me but I’m confident that in the years ahead, when I’m weak and need her, I’ll appreciate it.
For now, we are slowly adjusting to our new ‘normal’. Dad has been our biggest concern. He and mom were married for 44 years and he retired early to stay home with her. He was by her side through every step of her final battle with cancer – it was his full-time job. Had my husband, Colby, and I not happened to drive to Houston that day, Dad would have been alone with Mom when everything went downhill.
I’m grateful we were there. I’m grateful we were all able to be by Mom’s side for her final moments. But, selfishly, I still wish I’d had more time. More time to tell her I loved her, to learn from her, to listen to her voice, to taste her cooking, to watch her dance. More time to hear her laugh, see her smile, hold her hand, hug her, cry with her, laugh with her – and love her.
After she died, life became a roller-coaster. I will never forget the heart-dropping sadness I felt when the ER doctor asked if my mom had an Advanced Directive. The anxiety that consumed us as we sat in the ER, the heartbreak as we learned she was 100% dependent on the ventilator. The selfish anguish as we had to decide to switch off the ventilator, and how it felt to tell our family – including my own four children – of our decision.
Physically holding up my dad as the doctor declared the time of death. Unbridled grief as we returned home to tell our then-seven-year-old daughter that she’d never see her ‘DotDot’ again this side of heaven. The mourning as we tried to prepare for life without my mom in it.
Two years on, it’s all still so clear – those events are burned indelibly into my brain. There is still immeasurable sorrow, and there always will be. But there is joy, too, with the recollection of so many happy memories. I look at my family, at myself, and see my mom in all that we are. She is forever in our hearts.
This story first appeared on Staci’s own blog, Our Family Lifestyle.