Four years ago today, I was in the Washington D.C., not to witness the inauguration but to board a plane bound for Southern California. At the time, I was married and had moved across the country to Richmond Virginia -- the day after Thanksgiving we loaded our belongings into a UHaul and made our way across the county.
The night before at Thanksgiving Dinner I laid in bed with my mom, who had been in a serious battle with cancer for 8 years, I showed her pictures of the converted loft I had rented sight unseen. An interior designer she gave decor suggestions about our soon to be new space. Before we departed, she hugged me and told me that she was proud of the person I was and that she hoped a moved to a new place would be good for my marriage (I never disclosed to her the abuse I was suffering), and that I would blaze a new path for myself. She told me she loved me and that once she was cleared to travel again she'd come and visit. I didn't know that this would be last time I'd ever talk to her in person or that it would be our last embrace.
On January 20th, 2017 I was laying in bed when I received a frantic call from my sister. My mom was in the ICU and I needed to get to California as soon as possible. I got on my computer and tried to book a flight, the Richmond airport (a commuter airport and much smaller in size), had no available flights out. I called my husband at work, and told him that he needed to leave and drive me to the hour and half to D.C. so I could get on plane to see her, shockingly he obliged.
At 4pm, I walked into Dulles International Airport and up to the first ticket booth I saw. I told the lady "I need to get to Los Angeles, now." There was a flight departing in a half hour, with 2 layovers I could arrive by 8 am. It was the longest plane ride of my life.
When I arrived at the hospital, my sister met me outside. I was blissfully unaware that my mom was in a coma and on a ventilator. Knowing that I would be traveling all night, my sister didn't tell me how bad it was until I got there. It was bad. She was in septic shock and couldn't breathe on her own. After getting briefed, I sat with her and begged for her to come to us. Around lunch time the doctor came to talk to us -- we had to make a decision, my mom had a DNR and if she didn't improve over the next 48 hours we needed to make the decision to take her off life support.
I remember looking at my sister and step father and telling them that I supported them but that I couldn't be involved in deciding. My sister's birthday was in two days and so we decided to give it time to see if she would improve. We went home that night to try to sleep, to hold ourselves together and would be back in the morning, hopefully with fresher minds and hearts.
The next morning around a quarter to 8, as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee, the phone rang, it was the hospital, we all needed to get there immediately. When we arrived, my mom had made the choice for us that no one who loved her could make, she was in full cardiac arrest and they were taking her off life support.
I sat next to her, holding her hand, I told her I loved her. I told her that I still needed her but that it was okay. I told her to send me signs and that I would look for them. I told her I didn't want to let go but that I knew I had to. Then the doctor came, they took out the tube, she took 3 breathes on her own and surrounded by the people who loved her most, she drifted off to an eternal slumber.
I have lost many people close to me but if you've lost a parent, you know that it leaves you with an emptiness and a vast void that cannot be filled. We all know that someday we will lose our parents, but it is a relatively abstract notion, and that knowledge doesn't lessen the pain any. My loss has permanently altered me, nothing in my life will ever be the same again, its been 4 years and I'm still grieving... but I've come to understand that grief is the ultimate act of love... it is both a burden and a privilege to love someone beyond this earth.
If you are struggling with loss, please reach out and know that you don’t have to grieve alone. I am with you.
In loving memory of my mom, February 28, 1956 - January 23, 2017