I’ve been away for a while. I haven’t meant to be, but that’s how it worked out.
Last October, my mom had a major bowel obstruction, which required surgery. (Or rather, it was surgery vs. palliative/hospice care; she opted for surgery).
When I talked to her surgeon—at five a.m., after a twelve-hour stint in the emergency room—he spoke of uncertain outcomes. They wouldn’t know what they’d find once they opened her up. There was her age to consider, her other health issues.
Despite these things, she made it through the surgery surprisingly well. Her incision healed without infection. A different infection, unrelated to her surgery, needed treatment, but her care team found the right antibiotics. My sister and I were cautiously optimistic.
But it was a long winter. One hospital stay led to another. Days before Christmas, it was two blood transfusions in the emergency room. In January, it was fluid overload from the two transfusions in December. In February, it was the three a.m. call from the assisted living triage nurse followed by the frantic drive around the Twin Cities—because no one could tell us which hospital the EMTs had taken her to.
That was the time they had to intubate. My mom spent a week in the ICU. It was then one of the ER doctors turned to me and asked, “Are you a healthcare professional?”
I didn’t know how to respond to that.
During all this, I could hear the voice of that first surgeon, his words a continuous loop in my mind.
He was right. Everything was uncertain. Except for one thing.
Did we see what was coming? Yes. And no. Maybe we didn’t want to admit it, not completely. There were talks, often with compassionate palliative care team members. There was a chasm between honoring my mother’s wishes and what was—as everyone else was telling us—realistic. Bridging that gap felt impossible.
Because my mother was a fighter. It might be cliché, but those lines from the Dylan Thomas poem sum it up so completely:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And yet it wasn’t enough. In the end, she had to stop fighting. In the end, we had to tell her it was okay to do so. In the end, we had to let go.
On April 26th, we started hospice for my mom. On May 2nd, she died.
I want to write more about this past year. At the same time, I want to look forward, see what’s on the horizon—for me and my writing.
But for now, I leave you with my parents’ trees at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.