[FYI: This post is a stream of consciousness about hospitals and death and dying and feelings. It’s raw and barely edited, but fairly tame in its descriptions of death. If this is not something you think you can handle reading, though, no offense taken if you close this tab.]

People have asked me how I’m holding up and I say “I’m fine,” because that’s all anyone wants to hear, that’s all anyone can really handle hearing, but the truth is that I still have no idea how I am. Not really.

A couple of months ago, my mother went in for a routine endoscopy and colonoscopy. They found a mass on her colon roughly the size of an oblong tennis ball. My family has a long history of neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerve tissue, stretching back generations. What they found in mom was a schwannoma, a rarer form of NF. (Do yourself a favor and don’t Google Image search either of those.) It was benign, but her doctors thought it best to have it removed before it had the chance to grow bigger or cancerous.

On April 5th, we drove mom to the hospital. We were told to be there at 10:00 AM for a 12:00 PM appointment. They ended up not taking her in until after 2:00. Her surgery lasted just under six hours. When the surgeon came out to speak with us, he said that the tumor was larger than they thought and, in fact, were multiple tumors. But everything had gone well, they removed a good six inches of her colon and all of the tumors they could find, and she should recover with no problems and go home within four-to-six days.

She was only supposed to be in the hospital for four-to-six days.

They kept her on a liquid diet for the first several days. There was no way her system could process solids, not with a stretch of her colon missing. She was doing well, though. She was getting stronger. She was up and walking, just a bit, the day after her surgery, and traveled farther and farther around the third floor of the hospital as the week went on. I was so proud of her.

However, due to a little more bleeding than the doctors would like, and the fact that she was taking in liquids be not expelling, her stay was extended a few extra days. She was cut off from all liquids and they inserted a tube up her nose and down her throat to suction excess fluid out of her until she could urinate on her own again.

At this point, she had been in the hospital for five days and hadn’t eaten anything in over a week.

Because she hadn’t eaten in over a week, her hear medication wasn’t being absorbed properly and her heartbeat became very erratic. They moved her to the ICU on Monday the 11th, fearing that she might have a heart attack. They stabilized her, got her back on a liquid diet, and moved her back to the third floor the next day, where she would stay under observation for the rest of the week.

That Wednesday, in order to prepare her to go home again, they took her off her the morphine and, when I went to go see her Thursday the 14th, she was off of all IV pain medications she was on. She could still receive meds when she needed them, but they would be in pill form and given only when asked, instead of at the push of a button. The only thing she was still hooked up to was oxygen and an IV port.

That was a bad day.

After ten days in the hospital, that was the first day that first day that my mother had felt the full brunt of her pain from surgery. She could barely move, her voice was low and weak. The nurses told her that she needed to get up and walk but, whenever she sat up, she felt dizzy and had to lay down again. A nurse looked her over, then called in another nurse. Then, all of a sudden, there were several more nurses and doctors in the room. They did a quick EKG and then started packing things up, telling us that they were going to move mom down to the CCU.

Mom had a minor heart attack. It was just before 2:00 PM.

They usher my dad and I into the CCU waiting room and left us to worry and pace for an hour and a half. My sister, who was at work at the time, called each of us several times to see how mom was doing that day, though, we let her calls go to voicemail. She didn’t know about heart attack yet and dad didn’t want to upset her at work until we knew for sure what we were dealing with. Because, at this time, we still didn’t know for sure what we were dealing with.

When the doctor came to see us around 3:30, he told us that, yes, she did have a heart attack, but it was a very minor one and that mom was going to be all right. He told us that she had a complete blockage in her left ventricle, but there was nothing that could be done about it. In fact, he went on, the blockage was so intense, no surgeon would touch her for fear of killing her on the table. But, he assured us, her body was already working to heal itself, as bypass veins had started growing to move blood around the blockage. The doctor told us that he wanted to keep her in the CCU overnight for observation, move her back to a room the following day, where she would stay for another week so they could run a few tests and EKGs and keep an eye on her, until she was strong enough to be discharged. He shook our hands and told us that my mother was going to be all right.

Six hours later, she would be gone.

We found mom in bed six, awake but groggy and in pain. As the next hour passed, she became a bit more alert. She started drinking. She was talking. She cracked a joke or two.

At 4:30, when it seemed like she was going to be all right, I left the hospital, drove home to let the dog out, then picked up my sister from work. I had been at the hospital all day, she had been at work. Originally, our plan was to go home, get some food and sleep, seeing as how we’d have to get up early the next day and do it all over again. I pulled the car over. I told her about the day’s events. Then, we drove back to the hospital, just so she could see that mom was all right with her own eyes.

We ended up staying for just over two hours. Mom was talkative. We watched some cooking competition show together. Dad tried to feed her some Jell-O. Mom snatched the Jell-O from his hand and hungrily spooning it into her mouth. This was the first thing she had eaten in days. At 7:30, mom said that she wanted to rest. My sister and I, also tired and hungry, not having eaten or rested all day, said our goodbyes and left the hospital.

After stopping to get food, we went home, let the puppy out, shoved tacos in our face, and more or less collapsed in exhaustion. My best friend called, I filled her in on what was going on, and, in the middle of our conversation, my sister – phone in her hand and tears in her eyes – told me to get off the phone and get in the car.

While I was on the phone with my friend, my sister had called my dad to tell him that mom needed her rest and that he should come home and sleep, too. When he answered, she couldn’t understand what he was saying, he was crying so hard. The call dropped. She called back. My mom’s cousin, who had randomly stopped in to see my mom, answered my dad’s phone. He told my sister that we needed to get back to the hospital as quickly as we could.

Mom had a massive heart attack, ten minutes after we left her.

We raced back to the hospital. My sister was a mess of tears the entire way. I kept it together, partly out of denial – Mom had a heart attack or two over the years and she was always all right afterward. Hell, she had a heart attack not even six hours prior. She was going to be OK. – and partly out of obligation – I couldn’t fall apart because everyone else was falling apart and someone needed to keep it together for everyone else. I was that person when my grandfather passed. I was that person when my aunt passed. I would be that person again now.

I dropped my sister off at the ER entrance, to let her run ahead, and then scrambled to find a parking spot. I ran into the ER and immediately stress-vomited four tacos into the closest bathroom I could find. I held it together as long as I could, but I was still a ball of anxiety inside.

I ran down the hall towards the CCU. I was stopped by hospital security. It was after 9:00 PM and all visitors needed to show ID, get their picture taken, and wear an ID sticker. My mom’s cousin met me at security and yelled at me to hurry up as I waited in line. I got my ID and we took off down the seemingly mile-long hall to the CCU, my mom’s cousin yelling at me to “let’s go” and “keep up,” even though I was only three paces behind him.

We were within fifty feet of the CCU when I saw my dad leading my sister out into the hall, tears in their eyes. My sister collapsed to the floor, sobbing. I rushed into the CCU, past doctors and nurses, and found my way to bed six.

My mother’s chest was bloated. Her throat bulged from the incubation tube sticking out of her mouth. There was a large strawberry Jell-O-colored vomit stain on the bed directly to the left of her head. She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t breathing. She just stared up at me with open, lifeless eyes as the doctor called time of death.

You have no idea how upset I am that this is the last memory I have of my mother.

My father and sister eventually came back into the room. He told us that he was sitting with mom, holding her hand and, ten minutes after my sister and I left, she started to shake uncontrollably. He called for the nurses and they rushed in and started to work on her. After an hour, they decided there was nothing more they could do. It was just her time.

I had only ever seen my dad cry once before in my life, six years ago, when hospice took my grandfather – my mother’s father – off of life support, quiet, stoic tears ran down his face. The night my mom passed, he couldn’t stop crying.

We sat in silence for a long time that night. I must have held her hand for hours, not wanting to let go, not wanting any of this to be real.

We left the hospital well after midnight. We were told, when we got home, someone would call with questions regarding mom’s medical history, as she was an organ donor.

A few weeks later, we would receive a letter from Eversight Ohio, thanking us for mom’s donation and that, because of her gift, another person can see again. I’m so proud of my mom for what she did, but I still get anxious at the thought of randomly bumping into some who looks at me with my mother’s eyes.

The next few days were a whirlwind of funeral prep and phone calls and paper work and no sleep. I was in shock for most of that time and still down remember much of what happened, but I will never forget the following:

  • having a panic attack in the basement of the funeral home while trying to pick out a casket out for my mom
  • having a panic attack in the funeral home every time I got anywhere near my mom laying in a casket
  • having the exact same conversation about what exactly happened to mom with everyone who called or came to the funeral
  • constant trips to the water fountain, as repeating the same story over and over again left me in a perpetual state of dry mouth
  • reconnecting with a younger cousin who is in her sophomore year of high school and an avid comic reader : )
  • my best friends and my godson driving 150 miles to be with me at mom’s funeral
  • a certain manipulative, controlling great aunt who decided that she had to be in charge of the funeral and in the middle of every conversation
  • that same great aunt questioning anyone she didn’t recognize (which was A LOT of people) as to who they were and why they were there
  • “My stuff, Mary! My stuff! MY STUFF! Do you think that he stopped [taking care of his sick, elderly father] for ONE MOMENT and thought about MY STUFF?!
  • that same great aunt telling my sister and I that we can “kiss [our] mother goodbye now” because “people were waiting,” as we said our final goodbyes before they closed the casket
  • people telling me afterward how beautiful my mother’s church service was and saying “I know,” even though I was so zoned out through most of funeral and mass that I don’t really remember any of it
  • my best friend holding my hand or rubbing the back of my head to calm me down whenever she saw I was getting upset
  • watching the pallbearers carry my mother’s casket up the hill to her final resting place
  • too many people wanting to talk to me and offer condolences when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball in the corner
  • deciding against a large dour memorial luncheon (as is tradition) and instead taking a dozen close friends and family members out to the bar for a much more celebratory meal and drinks
  • my aunt Diane’s comically large salad that I told her not to order with her meal
  • splitting a meal and chips and guacamole, which was the first thing I had eaten in days, with my best friend : )
  • drinking three very large beers
  • feeling quite drunk after drinking 66 oz of beer, having not eaten for a day and a half beforehand
  • going back to my parents’ house after everything was over and actually being surprised that my mom wasn’t there

And that’s kind of where I’ve been for the past month.

People have asked me how I’m holding up and I say “I’m fine,” because that’s all anyone wants to hear, that’s all anyone can really handle hearing, but the truth is that I still have no idea how I am. Not really.

I’ve been in this weird state of shock and denial, ever since the doctor called time of death, that I haven’t really felt much of anything. I love my mom. I miss my mom. SO MUCH. I have cried for my mom. But… there is still this very large part of me that hasn’t quite accepted the fact that she’s gone yet. I still expect her to be there when I go over to her house. I have to stop myself from asking how she is when I call. None of this feels real yet.

Everyone grieves differently. I know that. Rationally, I know that. But I look around at all of these people who knew and loved my mother, crying and grieving and feeling, and I feel like a bad person, I feel like a bad son, because she’s been gone a month now and I’m still just so… NUMB. I have stood at my mother’s grave, three times now, while my father and sister cry, and I may as well have been standing at a complete stranger’s grave. I don’t really feel anything. Just empty and alone.

And I know – I KNOW – that months from now, when I least expect it, there’s going to be this trigger, this tiny insignificant little thing, the mere mention of my mother’s name or seeing an old photograph of her or, hell, a fucking car commercial and it’s going to finally hit me like a ton of bricks that my mother is gone and I will never see her again and I am going to fall the fuck apart, seemingly from nothing, to anyone lucky enough to get front row seats to what should be a pretty glorious meltdown. Reserve your tickets now!

Anyway. I’ve been rambling for several pages now and I’m not even sure that anyone is even reading this still, so I’m going to wrap it up, I guess.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has offered condolences, sent cards/flowers, checked in on me, or kept us in their thoughts since mom’s passing. I would like to specifically thank: Kevin & Jody, for driving all the way to Cleveland for my mother’s funeral and for being the emotional support I’ve so desperately needed these last few weeks; Ashley, Christine, Jesse, & Elizabeth, for sending flowers and checking in on me on a regular basis; Adam, Lindsey, Nina, Brian, and Cara for talking to me when I really needed someone to talk to; and vodka, for getting me through the tough times.

Life is short. Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell them a lot. Tell the right now. Tell them you love them every chance you get. It’s important to say and it’s important to hear. Because you never know when it’s going to be the last time you’ll get to say those words and, when it is, more than anything, you’ll wish you could tell them “I love you” one more time.

And I do. I love and appreciate you all. You make my life better, during the good times, sure, but especially during the bad. I hope you know that. I know I say that a lot, to the point that maybe you think it doesn’t mean anything anymore. But it does. It means everything to me. I love each and every one of you so much. Even if you never believe another word I ever say, believe that. You are loved.