Friday, April 1, 2011

How my mom died

So on Wednesday, February 16th at 3 in the morning, my mom had an aneurysm.  She woke up with a thunderclap headache as blood filled her brain stem.  The doctors later told us that the weakened blood vessel could've been there for years, and if they had even given her an MRI the day before it happened they probably wouldn't have noticed it.  A one in a million chance, they said.  She called her best friend Wendy on the phone instead of calling 911.  Wendy said that mom sounded frantic and scared.  She kept saying, "dark", and "bleed", over and over again.  Wendy's husband found her in her nightgown on the bathroom floor with the lights on.  She was saying "dark" because the blood in her skull caused damage to the part of her brain responsible for sight.  She woke up blind.  She kept saying "bleed" because she was a nurse for 25 years, and knew exactly what was happening to her.  An ambulance took her to Poudre Valley Hospital, and then they threw her on a helicopter to the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver.  During the flight the second bleed occurred.  That's the one that killed her, but they didn't declare her brain dead until 4 days later.

My mom was an organ donor with a rare blood type.  That made what was left of her sort of a valuable commodity.  They kept her body alive with machines while they looked for people in need to receive her.  In the end, they found recipients for her lungs, liver, both kidneys, her eyes, and her skin tissue.  There's a 22 year old blind woman from South Dakota that can see now because of my mom.  My trip back to the states took me 21 hours (I live in Micronesia), but I still got there in time to hold her warm hand.  My sisters seem to think that that was somehow a blessing for me.  So now for the rest of my life, the last mental image I have of my mother is her reclined on that adjustable hospital bed, swollen and slack faced, mouth agape with a garden hose sized tube crammed down her throat.  They taped moist gauze over her eyes to keep them fresh for the blind lady previously mentioned who was patiently waiting for them.  She had a catheter between her legs and electrical sensors taped all over.  They shaved the right side of her bangs off, drilled a hole through her skull, and shoved another tube into her brain to relieve the pressure.  When I came into her room and saw her I said, "that's not my mom."  My sister said that I stood there for about 15 minutes with my hand over my open mouth, but I don't remember that.  And that's how I get to picture her for the rest of my life.  A corpse, pin cushioned with tubes and wires.

She was under a pink, fuzzy blanket when they took her to harvest her organs.  It was some synthetic fabric.  Super soft.  My dad put that blanket on his bed when we got back to the house, and Belle (my mom's yellow lab) wouldn't stop laying down on it.  Throw it on the floor, and Belle would hop off the bed and lay down on it.  Dad didn't wash the damn thing, so it had that sour smell from the hospital on it.  Before I entered mom's hospital room I could smell it.  Her room was filled with it.  It's the odor that happens when a person has their mouth forced open for almost a week.  That Darth Vadar respiration, as machines pushed air in and out of her.  Mom was a dead body with that God damn tube taped in her mouth for almost a week.  The scent was on everything.  It just stuck to you. 

At the funeral everyone hugged me, giving me their condolences.  "Oh Danny, I'm so sorry for your loss".  The aroma of all their different shampoos and aftershaves mixing together.  The stink of middle aged women's makeup.  These are people who didn't like my mom; when I was a little boy at church I'd overhear them talking shit about her.  Fucking two-faced vipers.  And shortly after I told them it's okay, I'm fine, they all got an eagerness on their face, practically licking their lips in anticipation for the juicy details.  "How did she die?"  "Was it quick?"  "Did she suffer much?"  Or maybe it was that they just wanted to see how long I could talk about it before I broke down.  I think people secretly yearn for that moment when you're talking about something painful, and your voice cracks, eyes swelling with tears, when you lose control to emotion.  That flicker of hurt across your face.  Then they can get some kind of vicarious catharsis.

So here's the really shitty part.  My mom was divorcing my dad.  My dad loves/loved my mom, and was trying to contest the divorce.  Me and my sisters were pretty upset by this - it seemed like my mom was kind of stabbing my dad in the back - and I've been on the short end of unrequited love a number of times, so I sympathized with my father.  I started ignoring my mom.  I was very cruel to her.  She was a bit codependent, so ignoring her really hurt her.  I called her to say Merry Christmas, and it had been so long since I called her that she started crying.  I asked her to stop being dramatic.  I said some mean shit to her.  I said some mean shit about her to my dad and my sisters.  And then she died.

So I guess that brings me to the moral of this story: if someone you love is doing something that hurts you, tell them that you're hurt, but then tell them you still love them.  And call your mom.  Seriously, call her right now and tell her that you love her.

...and the next blog I write won't be depressing.  Promise. 


  1. That's a sad story, I'm truly sorry that it happened. I'll remember your advice though, it's good. Always tell the people you love that you love them, even when it hurts. Thanks.