We all staggered into the hospital one small group at a time. I had sent my sister a text, telling her that she needed to come to the hospital. She had gone home to grab a quick nap and awoke to me telling her to come back to her own personal hell. I stood in the hallway outside of mom's room and waited for her. I wanted to be the one to tell her that it was time to take mom off of life support. I had to be the one to break the news to her.
"I'm so sorry, honey. She's gone. Her mind is gone. We have to take the next step."
She fell apart in my arms and I tried to give her as much comfort as I could. She kept saying, "I'm only 21. This isn't supposed to happen to us. We're too young. She's too young." All I could do was stoke her hair and tell her that I knew it too. It was too soon. Her death was avoidable, it was unnatural, it didn't have to happen like this.
If only we could have saved her. If only she had let us.
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I've told this same sequence of events to many people over the course of the last nine months. Humans are always curious about the death of someone so young and so full of life. She didn't have a cancer, she didn't die in an automobile accident. Her death was sudden and shocking, and completely preventable.
In the few months leading up to her death she had relapsed. Her alcoholism was the worst I had ever seen. She was an addict, an addict who was determined to end whatever pain was swimming in her soul. Her demons too great, her mind too weak.
She went to a boyfriend's house the week before. While he was in deep denial over the true nature of her alcoholism she took advantage of it. His home became a safe place for her to drink while he was gone during the days. That Saturday he had left her to visit family. When he returned later that afternoon he found her at the bottom his stairs, unconscious, laying in a pool of blood.
Between his accounts and the doctors reports we came to the conclusion that a high amount of alcohol in the blood had caused a seizure in her brain. It may have been more than one seizure over the course of the day, but the final blow came when she was walking up the hardwood stairs. The seizure caused her to fall backwards, her neck landing on the edge of a step, causing instant brain damage. Because the brain takes so long to fail it will shut down the other body parts first, trying to preserve as much activity as possible. By the time her head hit the stairs she was unconscious and didn't feel any pain. She never felt anything ever again.
When her boyfriend came home to her lying there on the foyer floor he called 911 and she was transported to the hospital. The brain surgery that was performed was an attempt to release pressure to the brain, but the damage had been done. Slowly, over the course of 12 hours her brain lost more and more activity. When the brain is no longer active the body will never recover. That person is lost forever.
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I had been communicating with Thomas throughout the day. Updating him on the status, trying to keep my calls to him short as I knew that the longer I remained on the phone with him the less I would be able to keep myself together. I had decisions that needed to be made and I could not be a blubbering mess.
The ICU nurses would change shifts and introduce themselves to us. They bathed her, changed her, talked to her. They cared for her as if she weren't just a body in the bed. As if she was able to respond and communicate back to them. I will forever and ever be grateful to them for their compassion and their care to not just us, but to my mother. They amazed me every second I was in that room.
At some point a woman came to see me. She was there to speak to us about organ donation. There was no argument from me. While my mother may have ultimately caused her own demise and did everything in her power to destroy the body God gave her, these people were going to be able to cleanse her organs and give them to someone who was grateful to live each and every day. Someone who prayed for these organs so that they may enjoy their life in the best health possible. I was honored to sign the paperwork.
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Saying goodbye isn't like they portray it in the movies. While we each took our turns with her in her room to have our final moments, no one tells you about the nurses coming in and leaving, or the noises, or the smells. Smells that one doesn't forget easily.
Because we had opted to donate her organs we could not be there when life support was removed. When we walked out of that room we had to do so with the knowledge that she would be there until her organs were ready. I was the last one to say goodbye to her.
There was no point in speaking to her out loud. She couldn't hear me. I'm realist, I know when someone is a person and I know when someone is a body. The woman who was my mother was long gone. This was her vessel, her poor tired and battered vessel. I sat in the chair next to her bed and lowered my head. I said a prayer for her soul and I asked God to please watch over her. To care for her where ever she had gone. To forgive her for her sins, and to forgive me of mine. To watch over my grandmother and my sister as I knew their pain was so much greater than mine. I had prepared my heart weeks before, knowing that her alcoholism was at it's worst, knowing that she was not long for this world. But please bless us with Your strength. Please help us.
I looked at her one last time and I walked out of the room. One of the nurses smiled at me as I passed her. I smiled a genuine smile back at her. I was free of this now. Free of worry, free of embarrassment. And she was free from whatever pain she was feeling.