Taking My Mother Off Life Support

What I haven’t written about are the details of Mom’s death, which I want to include now so that I have this record for later. I can’t imagine I’d forget anything but memory can be elusive.

We had made the decision to remove Mom from life support (as were her wishes due to the lack of any chance of a full recovery), and we’d decided this would happen a few hours after my sister’s plane came in so that she’d have a chance to say her goodbyes. During that time I had several opportunities to sit with Mom and tell her everything I wanted to say to her:  that I love her more than anything in the world, that she was a good mother, how grateful I was to have had her for a mom. I told her I didn’t have any issues with her for what happened in my childhood, and that I wish I’d had more heart-to-heart conversations with her. I introduced her to Steven, and told her I thought they’d like each other. I shared some memories with her, mostly of when I lived alone with her in high school. I told her I’d miss her. At one point my cousin suggested that miracles do happen and some do recover, though the doctor had said there was no chance, but just in case I asked her to squeeze my hand if she could hear me, and if she thought she could recover, and she did not squeeze my hand. Near the end I told her we would let her go. I touched her face and her hair. I held her hands which were hot, and I kissed her hands, and I touched her feet which were cold, and I tried to warm them with my hands. She’d had a pons stroke, and it affected the part of the brain that controls the body’s thermostat, which makes parts of the body hot and cold at different times. I cried a lot.

angel-sky-2I spent as much time as I could in the room with Mom, leaving only to do what was necessary:  eat, go to the bathroom, and I talked to those who’d traveled to see her, mainly Mom’s sister and her husband, Mom’s brother, one of my cousins, my stepfather, my sisters, my boyfriend, and my best friend. Mom’s next-door neighbor also visited. Steven came into Mom’s room with me a few times, but mostly I was in there with her and my sister or stepfather, and a couple of times my aunt, uncle, and cousin came in. My uncle spent the whole time talking about his family as if Mom wasn’t there, and I tried to be polite at first, but finally I just ignored him and looked at Mom and held her hand. I was on the verge of screaming at him to get out, that I had a limited time with Mom and we didn’t care about his stupid family. This particular uncle was estranged from the family, so no one had talked to him much, and Mom was closer to my other uncle, who surprisingly didn’t come but whose son came up from Florida. My sisters and I were hurt, surprised, and angry that he didn’t come, and thought maybe he just couldn’t take it, although that didn’t make us feel much better. He did make it to the service but it seems to me that he really missed out on getting to say his goodbyes. Mom adored him, and I believe her feelings would be hurt knowing he couldn’t take time out of his schedule to see her in her last moments. Like a lot of men of that generation, maybe he just could not deal with the emotions. I like to believe Mom’s soul was in the room with us, and that she could hear what we were saying, and that she could feel our love for her. I hope that she could feel her brothers’ love too, regardless of their thoughtless actions, as much as I hope she feels my love at this very minute from where I live, 500 miles away from where she lived.

Mom did not look like herself in the hospital. Her eyes were closed and her head was turned to the side, her face was sunken in, her lips were swollen, and her tongue was hanging out. Under her nose were tubes providing oxygen. She was in the trauma unit on a hall with others who were also dying, as far as we could tell, and in the waiting room were large families like us who stayed up all night, coming and going in twos and threes to visit their loved ones. The medical staff allowed only two of us at a time, though we sometimes snuck an extra person in, and they never scolded us. The hospital room was dark; they didn’t turn on the garish overhead lights, which made it more peaceful and comforting.

After about 24 hours of being on life support, my sisters invited anyone who wanted to come in with us during the process of her passing as we took her off life support, because they didn’t want anyone to feel excluded. I had assumed that only my sisters, stepfather, and I would be the ones in the room with her, but my cousin wanted to be there, and my sisters were kind enough to invite anyone, so I asked if Steven could be there, because I wanted him there. Being the youngest I felt like I had to ask permission. I was glad that Steven was with me, and his presence was a real comfort to us all. Afterwards my sisters said they were glad he was there, that Mom would’ve liked him, that they liked him too, and that his presence was welcome, all of which I felt grateful for. It was hard to pay attention to him or anyone else because I was so distraught and focused on my mother, though at times the anxiety was so high that I’d worry about not talking enough to him or the others. My sisters and I talked to each other mostly, and were a real comfort to each other. At the same time, none of us had gotten any sleep in 24 hours and were full of anxiety and grief.

The chaplain came in with us to say a prayer before Mom passed. She was a young woman, probably younger than me, but she seemed to know what she was doing. We all held hands in a circle with Mom, and I held one of her hands. I may have been a bit greedy with her hands, and after the prayer I realized it, and offered the others to hold her hand and stand by her side. Now that I think of it, I feel selfish and guilty for holding her hand during the prayer… I just didn’t want to leave her side. One of my sisters was on her other side, but I can’t remember which sister. I believe my oldest sister was by her other side and the middle sister was at her feet, though my stepfather may have been at her feet while my middle sister was next to my oldest sister.

The nurse and chaplain explained beforehand that the process of removing life support can be traumatic to watch, and suggested we turn away. Often people will gasp for air and have a gag-reflex that can be hard to see, so everyone but my oldest sister agreed to turn away. However, Mom didn’t do that. She just peacefully passed. She didn’t appear to be breathing, which was no surprise because the doctor had said she wasn’t breathing on her own. But I guess the heart continues to beat for a minute or so, and it was impossible to know exactly when she passed by looking at her, but her face quickly turned gray.

A few months ago I read a book about people who’d had near-death experiences, and in many accounts they spoke of not being in their body, specifically of floating above their body in the hospital room, of seeing the doctors, nurses, and family members in the room, of seeing a white bright and deceased loved ones who they wanted to join, of feeling immense love and joy. I like to think this was Mom’s experience, that she could feel our love for her, that she felt at peace, and that she is with her mother, father, and grandmother now. Maybe my dog and cat are with her, and maybe she met my friend who died this time last year.

There are more details but I’ll leave it at that for now, as this has already been a long enough blog post. May my mother rest in peace.

Here’s a song by Enya that years ago Mom had mentioned to my sister she wanted played at her memorial service.


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