It’s a term we have all, at some point in time, used in vain. Maybe you’ve had a conversation with your significant other that went something like this, “Hey if that’s me I want you to pull the plug”. But how many of us have actually been faced with that decision? How many of us have had to sign a document stating that you knew that when the doctors turned off the machines, your loved one would die? A much smaller percentage of us, I’m sure. Because how could anyone give up on a loved one? It’s feels so….hopeless. The decision to “pull the plug” on someone? Not so cut and dry when it’s your mom, dad, daughter, son, sister, brother…lying in a hospital bed unable to communicate with you. What would they want you to do? Would they want you to pull the plug? Or would they want you to fight with the doctors to hold off just a little longer? 3 years ago around this time, my family was faced with this decision. My mom had been diagnosed with cancer about 9 months earlier, and she had seriously digressed since she had been admitted to the hospital two months earlier. The last month of her life, doctors were hounding us to pull the plug. They sent people in to talk to us about hospice. They tried to convince us that her life, as we knew it, was over. But we held on. For longer than we probably should have. But how could we give up on her? The person who almost died having (one of) us and spent every minute of her life making OUR lives better? There was literally no way we could sign on that dotted line; knowing that her death was coming. The last month of her life, she wasn’t really there. But her heart was still beating. Could we have a conversation with her? No. Could we hold her hand, brush her hair and talk to her? Yes. Could she hear us? Maybe not. Could we watch the machines she was hooked up to, knowing that her heart was still beating? Yes – and as long as her heart was still beating, there was that small, teeny tiny shrivel of hope that could remain with us. When you are talking about the end of someone’s life, those little moments matter. They matter. Her life mattered. And every additional second that we got with her, whether or not she was really “there”; it mattered.
On March 19th, 2013, I turned 31. I remember the year before, on my 30th birthday, I was bummed that I couldn’t celebrate with my friends. I was upset that I didn’t have any big plans – no party, no big 30th birthday shenanigans to brag about on social media. And just one year later my birthday wishes were so different; monumentally different. My only wish that year was that it wasn’t the day my mom’s body gave up, once and for all. I didn’t know if I could handle that. And she listened. It doesn’t surprise me, really. My mom was the most selfless person I knew – the term “I would give you the shirt off my back” was honestly invented for her. So in the end, I know that she did that for me, my twin brother and the rest of my family – because how could we face our birthday for years to come knowing it was also the day she took her final breath. On the 20th, I got a call pretty early in the day from my brother to get on a plane and come back home. I found a flight for that evening, but he said no, get there as quickly as I could. I somehow managed to find a direct flight that left soon; leaving me with just enough time to pack for what I knew was going to involve a funeral. My husband drove me to the airport and I boarded that plane, scared to death that she would take her last breath while I was 30,000 feet up. When we landed I turned on my phone and held my breath, knowing that even if something had happened while I was in the air no one would have let me find out that way. My brother picked me up and drove as fast as he could to the hospital. I was the last one there. I walked in, saw my whole family surrounding her bed and saw things that made me realize that this really was it for her. My hope was suddenly gone. It was time for goodbyes. We all took turns, alone, saying goodbye. I went last. I don’t remember exactly what I said; I know it involved a lot of tears. I apologized for not being able to help her. I told her how much I loved her. I thanked her for everything she did for me throughout the years. It wasn’t enough time; but really no amount of time would have been enough.
Around 7:00 that evening, we signed the required paperwork. Essentially, we were signing that we knew what would happen – they would unplug everything and she would eventually stop breathing; her heart would stop beating. And no one would do anything. She would just slowly stop being alive. They told us it would happen fast. And for one final in-your-face moment, my mom rose to the occasion. She refused to go quickly. She held on for about 12 hours, and around 7:30 the next morning, she took her last breath. I can’t accurately describe that moment. Its surreal watching someone take their last breath, mostly because you don’t know it’s actually their last breath. So you sit and wait, wondering if that was it until you realize it’s been too long since the last one so that must have been it. So that was it. One minute she was here, she was with us, her heart was still beating. And just a minute later she was gone; her heart was no longer beating. In that same moment someone was showering and getting ready for work. Someone else was meeting their baby for the first time. Someone was dropping their child off at school. Someone was enjoying their morning cup of coffee. People were going on with their lives, whether mundane or extraordinary, they were living their lives. And mine felt like it just ended. How is it possible, that in the same moment, so many different things could be happening? The worst moment of my life, could be the best moment of someone else’s? It doesn’t make sense. But in actuality it does. Every single second of the day, someone somewhere in the world is having the best moment of their life, while someone somewhere else is having the world moment of their life.
So here I sit on the anniversary of her death. It doesn’t make sense to me, still, three years later. Why was it my mom? Why wasn’t she given the opportunity to be a grandmother, witness all of her children get married? Enjoy her retirement? Why didn’t she get to live well into her 80’s? I’ll never get an answer to that. And I’m not even sure an answer would help. I still miss her every single second of the day. I think about her mostly at night, or while I’m driving alone – missing her and wondering where she is. Is she happy? Is she proud of me? Does she think I’m a good mom?
Has it gotten easier? Not really. I still miss her, every single day. I still feel angry that she didn’t beat cancer; angry at the doctors, angry at cancer, angry at God (I’m working on this one).
People say it gets easier with time. It doesn’t. You learn to live with a hole in your heart. But nothing actually fills that hole. You never feel the same normal you felt before you “pulled the plug”, but you find your new normal. Your heart may grow in other places, like mine did when I gave birth to my daughter. But the hole I have in my heart from missing her – it’s still there. And I don’t expect it to ever go away.
I miss you Mom.