Monday, December 17, 2012

Radio Silence

*I'd like to preface this post by saying that writing and sharing is something very healing to me. It's something I need...I hope I do not offend any family members with this post. I've also kept many of the private details just that...private. Love you all.*

mom is in e.r. dad couldn't wake her up....

The text message I received Friday, December 7, at 4:03 p.m. from my brother who lives with my parents filled me with dread. I instantly began to cry and pray. Two days before, my mom had a torn rotator cuff surgically repaired. The surgery went well and she was sent home Thursday morning. She enjoyed a quiet evening at home. Her sister brought dinner which she and my dad enjoyed. They watched a little TV and went to bed.

My dad aroused her briefly in the morning to administer her pain pill. My mom swallowed the pill but didn't open her eyes or speak much. My dad had recently had precancerous cells removed from his eye and had to go to an eye appointment. When he returned, my mom was still asleep. He couldn't wake her up. He pinched her and pulled on her toes and put ice on her face. And then he called 911.

The EMTs suspected a reaction to the pain medication and treated her for such.

In the ER she got a CT scan.

bilateral pulmonary emboli. blood clots in lungs.

The texts kept coming but none said that Mom had woken up. None said that Mom was going to be okay.

I live 9 hours away from my mom. I knew I would go to her. I thought about getting in the car right away, but my three nurse siblings told me to get a good night's sleep and come the next day. Nothing was dire. Joci had been invited to her very first birthday party and she was so excited to go. The last phone conversation I had with my mom was to tell her about that. I figured she would want Joci to go. We would go to the party and then drive down afterwards.

nurse and doc concerned she may have been low O2 (oxygen) all night and even normal dose of narcs (her pain pills) contributed to diminished O2 may be brain damage with low O2 all night

I struggled as I cared for my kids. I broke down sobbing on the floor a time or two. With tear-filled vision, I fumbled with a hot cookie sheet and seared my forearms. I didn't even feel it. Three of my four siblings are nurses and many of the texts flying around were so full of medical terms and numbers that I felt like a little child not able to keep up with an adult conversation. My non-nurse sibling and I called each other with this frustration and cried together.

mom moved to icu. icu doc suspecting stroke.

I put the kids to bed and packed. I could not sleep so I decorated our newly purchased Christmas tree, my heart trembling the entire time. I wondered if it was the brightest idea...if things ended up badly (and deep inside I knew life would never, ever be the same though I didn't know how bad things would go...) would I ever be able to decorate a Christmas tree without feeling sick to my stomach again?

My grandmother suffered a stroke and never was the same. She lived for quite a few years beyond that but needed help and guidance.

I don't think it looks good...pretty negative neurological status. If she stroked last night in her sleep then the window for treatment is passed...

Justin put on reruns of The Office. It was a good distraction. I had him bring his laptop to bed and play them so I could fall asleep. It was past 3 a.m. At one point he thought I was asleep so he turned the computer off. I instantly awoke and was full of anxiety for my mom. Justin turned the show back on and left it on for the rest of the night.

No apparent change this a.m.

Like robots, Justin and I got ready for the day. We took Joci to her birthday party. Who knows what the other parents thought of me when I kept ducking away to the bathroom and returning with red eyes.

She is still not responding. I am getting very concerned. 

When the birthday girl got a present from her grandmother I completely lost it. My daughter will never get a birthday present from her grandma again!

My siblings had all booked flights and would be in St. George, Utah, by Mom's bedside that afternoon. With plans to drive with my family, I wouldn't be in until 10 or 11 at night. I was driving home from the birthday party when I received this text:

Lara you need to hurry.

I called my mother right then. I heard her voice on her voicemail. I told her goodbye...just in case. I told her to wait for me. I told her I wanted to touch her while she was still warm...hold on, Mommy.

I booked a flight, ran home and grabbed my suitcase and an hour and a half later I was sitting the terminal waiting to get on a plane. My brother was on the same flight. As soon as he walked into the terminal, we grabbed each other in a big bear hug. My husband had been there for me for the past 20 hours, but there was something about being with a sibling...mingling tears with someone else who was on the verge of losing the same mother. We hugged and wept in the terminal of the airport. We quietly sat side-by-side and waited for the plane. At the last minute, the ticket agent was able to get our seats together.

"Do we really have to do this?" I asked. "Do we really have to grow up in this way?"

My brother shook his head. "We're hurtling through the air at 500 miles per hour to get somewhere we don't really want to be."

This brother is a nurse (or will be next week when he graduates). He was reassuring me that the fight wasn't over. There was still hope. Mom had a fight, but there was no reason to plan a funeral. But five minutes later he started talking about my dad's opinions on organ donation. I couldn't handle it. Why were we talking about this?

Our layover in Salt Lake was brief. I wanted to go buy a box of See's Truffles, because Mom always did that at airports. But I literally only had time to go to the bathroom. I saw my mom's youngest sister walk into the terminal. She was on our flight. More tearful hugs in the airport. My brother, my aunt, and me sat in the last row of an airplane. We sniffled with red eyes the entire flight. I ordered ginger ale - my mom liked to order that on flights.

We arrived in St. George and my uncle picked us up. "I think she is waiting for everyone to arrive before she goes."

Things were dark. Very dark. How did they this happen? How so fast?

As we exited the elevator on the third floor of the hospital, my hand found its way into my brother's. We walked fearfully into an ICU room full of people. I was pulled like magnet to my oldest brother, my second sister, and my father, completely bypassing my nephew and my aunts and uncles who were there. There were no words...but so much was silently shared as our chests heaved together.

And my angel a coma...on oxygen...her hands warm and her skin soft. She felt like she always felt. She smelled like she always smelled. I had a million fantasies of her waking up as soon as all five children were there touching her and calling for her to open her eyes. Or maybe she would wait until we were alone together. Or a kiss from my dad would do it. She would wake up, she had to.

She reacted a bit to pain. That meant something, right? There was hope, right? Right???

We circled around her and sang "Puff the Magic Dragon," her favorite lullaby that we were all raised on. If you're not familiar with that song, look up the lyrics. None of us made it through the final verse.

We spoke with the two ICU doctors who had treated her. Speaking with them together really helped us understand the "whys" behind every treatment (or non-treatment) issue. We learned that Mom had a hole in her heart. Clots happen in everyone, especially after surgery when the body is trying to heal. The heart naturally filters clots to the lungs, but because of her hole, a shower of clots bypassed the body's natural filtration system and went to her brain, causing a massive stroke. Strokes must be treated within three hours for much hope of damage control. Because her stroke happened during the night while she slept, the window had passed. An EKG also revealed that her heart had been weakened by numerous small heart attacks. She had never even known she had been having heart attacks. No one knew. Suddenly our hope of a strong Mom with a strong heart fighting through this began to fade.

Then the doctor showed us Mom's MRI. More than half her brain had been affected by the stroke. And by affected  I would never work again. If she pulled through and woke up, she would never feed herself, dress herself, bathe herself, walk, and maybe talk. She would not be living a life she wanted. She would not be my mom.

The news was like a knife in my heart. But at least it was something definite. At least we knew. My father knew her wishes and it was his legal right to make decisions about her healthcare. Yet it was so good that all the children were in agreement with what needed to happen. Our mother would not come back from this. Our trek to St. George had not been to support and help her had been to say goodbye. And we faced this unwanted trial together.

My husband and children arrived a few hours later. How sweet it was to see my husband weep over my mother. His love for her is undeniable. My heart grew a thousand sizes for him in those moments. That night as I drifted off to a fitful sleep in his arms, I was so grateful he was there. All my siblings (and my father) were alone in their beds with only harrowing thoughts and cold, cold tears. At least I had a warm pair of arms.

I spent as much time as I could with my mom and my family on Sunday. In-laws and grandchildren arrived. How heartbreaking to see the children sobbing for their grandmother. My mom was such a magical grandma. Fun, engaging, nurturing, and just wonderful. I may have cried harder for these children losing their grandma than for me losing my mother. My saddest tears were reserved for my father. Watching his heart break as he said goodbye to his sweetheart and companion of 46 years...there are no words.

My mother's siblings arrived and said their goodbyes. My mother's vitals were slipping. Signs of strength and stability ebbed. We all had time alone with Mom. And then it was time. At about 7:30 p.m., the nurse removed the oxygen mask. An hour later at 8:36 p.m., surrounded by children and family singing her into the next life, my mother breathed her last.

My mother was full and vibrant and lively. We had no indication of what was to come. One moment, everything was right...then she went to sleep never to wake up again. I can't explain how I feel. I am still in shock, still in denial. Shouldn't there have been some kind of sign or notice? Shouldn't she have lived into her 90's like her parents? Shouldn't someone be in their 50s when they lose their mom - not my ripe ol' age of 31?

The next days were a blur of much needed busy-ness. Caskets. Flowers. Photographs. Obituaries. Dresses. Shoes. Cemetery plots. Vaults. Travel. Hugs. Stories. Hollow explanations. Tears. Laughter. More tears. More laughter. Family. Emptiness. Pangs. Denial. Disbelief. Sorrow. Loss.

We held three services in three separate towns. My family was like one entity, rarely making a move without the rest of it. There was safety, healing, and strength in that unity. Saturday after the last service, we all went our separate ways. And today I faced "real" life. Alarm clocks. Work. Deadlines. Shopping lists. Things I want to push away for another week. It's not okay. I'm not okay.

My mother has died. And part of me too.

Normandie Hays in her flight attendant uniform about 1964


Natalie said...

Oh, Lara. What a beautiful post. My heart aches for you and your family. I wish I could give you a piece of my heart to fill the hole in yours. I am SOOOOO grateful that you were able to make it there in time to feel her warmth again and get to say your good-byes. That is no small tender mercy, indeed God was watching over bringing his daughter home. If you can find a copy of the book, "The Message", it brought me so much peace after Stephen died. It is about an LDS man who was in an accident and passed between life and death several times. He spent time in the Spirit World with his Grandpa who had already passed away. You will not believe how involved our loved ones are in our lives after they is AMAZING. They truly are aware of us. When you get those promptings and whisperings in your heart, often times they are your loved ones LITERALLY whispering to you. If you would like a copy of it, I would be happy to mail it to you! Just message me your address. :) Love you, Lara. many prayers and internet hugs heading your way.

Kristen Phillips said...

Lara- What a difficult time! I am so sorry for your loss, but am grateful that you have such an abundance of loving support in your life. My thoughts are with you and your family as you take the long road to heal from the loss of a woman and mother who sounds so wonderful!

hope2adoptbaby said...

So sorry for your loss. I can't imagine, and I cried at your beautiful words. Praying for your family.

Jennie Smith said...

I can't imagine your loss & I pray that you will be strengthened and uplifted by the knowledge of the Plan of Salvation and of Eternal Families.
You are a strong & amazing woman.

Whitney said...

My heart is just breaking for you. I am literally in tears. So terribly sorry for your loss. I will be praying for you and your family. Sending a big hug!

Cherie Nelson said...

Oh Lara! How I love your mom and your family! My heart hurts for you all! A HUGE thank you to your family for doing the beautiful service in Idaho Falls. It was a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. It truly felt like "home" when I walked into that church. Your mom has been like a family member to every single one of us...

I LOVED Julie & Brother Fuller's remarks on how Normandie is just in the next room...

I love your family and you all continue to be in my prayers!

Jamie Boyd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jamie Boyd said...

Lara, I love you. What a beautiful photo of your mother. You look like her. I never knew that.

Kim said...

You don't know me, but let me just say that I'm sorry for your loss. My parents are in their 70s and I cried a little as I read this, knowing that I'll be experiencing this sooner rather than later.

Allan and Kami said...

So, so sorry Lara. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Jewls said...

Oh Lara! Sobbing for you right now. I don't even know what to say. I am so so sorry. I am glad you have such a strong family there to support you, and I hope you can all strengthen each other. HUGS. We'll be praying for your sweet family!

Brian and Lauren said...

So sorry Lara for your loss. Beautifully written. You will be in our thoughts and prayers.

Megan said...

Lara, I am so sorry for what you are going through. She seems like an amazing woman. All my thoughts and prayers.

Kim said...

Oh Lara, I am so sorry for your loss. I cried reading about the passing of your sweet mother. Please know that you will be in my thoughts and prayers in the days ahead that you may feel comfort and love.

Alicia said...

Lara, my thoughts and hugs are with you.

kelley said...

I've been thinking about you ever since I heard about your mom. I can't even imagine what you're going through. Thankfully the gospel brings so much hope in these times. I never knew your mom well but met her once when she came to my wedding. She was awesome. I remember her and Laurie telling me about their rebellious younger years and something about cigarettes in the backyard. They were like teenagers telling funny stories about their escapades. And she told me about meeting your dad when she was a flight attendant and how that was against the rules in those days. That's my only memory of your mom and it's a fun one. The NC Belchers send our love and hugs to you and your family.

Chris Jones said...

I'm just catching up on my blogs and saw your post about your mom. You have such a gift for words and writing--I started crying almost immediately. Sending hugs and prayers from my family to yours!

rochelle said...

I haven't checked your blog (or anyone's) for a while, and I am so sorry for your loss. You wrote about her final days on earth beautifully. I have to ask, are you cousins with Cher Belcher Palmer? She is a good friend on mine who just lost her aunt, and the story is way to similiar. I went to high school with her, and she is one of my good friends! Anyway-I wish I could give you a big hug. You are certainly in my prayers.


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