An unease came over me in December’s first days. What was it? I couldn’t understand why, but I kept ticking off the days:
December first, December second, December third – each day feeling more ominous.
December fourth – fifth – sixth (What is going on? What am I feeling? It feels like something big happened.
I did not remember all that had unfolded until December ninth. My mind only let me remember in the rear view mirror.
On December 5, 2019, I had gone with my partner, a system’s administrator, along with several of his work mates, to a computer technology conference, which was attended by hundreds of others in their field.
It was held at a casino a few hours away from where we live – a big draw being a weekend of free food, booze, and casino chips, with chances to win more during the break out sessions.
I drank for the first time in three years the night we got there. I had no defense – and my partner was understandably upset with me.
What I couldn’t know is that I was somewhat paralleling my mother’s experience – only, I later learned, she was drinking that night to not care about terrible pain she was trying to manage with ibuprofen and booze. I had zero excuse. I did not know that she had started drinking again after a decade of sobriety, and that she had been drinking fairly heavily since that Thanksgiving.
I am filled with anxiety and deep sadness writing this, but it needs out.
It needs telling less because of what happened, and more because of the deep family dysfunction it revealed.
When I drank after three years of sobriety, I knew I was screwing up. I was chasing relief from my depression and anxiety – but that relief is temporary at best, and I had one of the worst nights in a very long time.
I may have had slight alcohol poisoning, I don’t know, but I had no sleep that night. I felt deep dread, and I kept seeing shadow figures in our room all night, along with feeling deep shame for blowing the gift of sobriety I had been given three years prior. I suppose an upside was my constant prayer that night.
The next day, the last day of the conference, my partner wanted to talk with a man who had several others vying for an audience with him during breakfast, and on the first break, and my partner did not get to talk to him then. We planned on leaving as soon as he got a chance to speak with him.
I got a phone call that I ignored during breakfast, and I looked at it an hour later.
It was my mother who sounded like hell, asking me to please come get her and take her to the hospital because she thought she had a flu, and was very sick.
I tried to call her back, but there was no answer. Normally, I am a twenty minute drive from her – fifteen minutes without any traffic (and driving as fast as I dare go over winding country roads), but now I was two hours away and my anxiety kicked in.
I asked my partner if we could leave because I was sensing that my mother was in serious trouble, but his whole purpose of being there was to speak with that in-demand dude – and this was his conference, after all.
I thought about hitch-hiking home, calling a taxi or driving service, or a bus. Nothing would be fast enough though, and I did not have the money anyway.
I called the Wendell police, but no one answered. It’s a small town with a small budget, and I had to leave a message. I was nearly outside of myself in panic now, and I dialed 911. My emergency, I told dispatch, was my mother a state away, who might be dying.
“You’ll have to call your state police, ma’am,” I think I heard – or something close to that. Or maybe she had me hold and patched me through to the state police, who patched me through to the Massachusetts state police – I was fairly greyed out by then and I only remember bits and pieces.
Close to an hour had gone by, and there was still no answer at my mother’s house. Was she dead?
The state police asked why I hadn’t called her local police. (You’re fucking wasting time, I thought). “No one is answering, and no one has called me back,” I told him.
“Okay, we’ll try to get someone out there.” Please do more than try, I thought.
A call a half-hour later from dispatch told me that the state police cannot find her trailer. “It’s hidden from the road, but there’s a path, and her trailer is about a half a football field down it?”
Finally, at lunch, my partner gets to talk to that guy.
I was so upset with him at this point. He said something about my mother saying she felt sick, not that she thought she was dying. I couldn’t explain how I knew this was an emergency, and I nearly begged him to please let’s go!
He did cut his discussion short because I’m crying now. I was also worried that I was wrong, and it would all be fine, and it is just sensitive, disaster-minded me, after all.
Finally on the road, it began to snow. (Are you fucking kidding me with this shit?)
It was really snowing – slowing us down to a crawl at one point – and then it started to lighten up, but the highway had not been plowed.
I get a call from the state police, who I now want to marry, that my mother is at the hospital. I thank the caller – did I tell them that I love them? Was it finally the Wendell police? I have no memory of who it was, or of the rest of the drive.
We’re at the hospital. I get into the emergency room where my mother is on the bed behind a curtain, and a nurse and ER doc are attending my mother.
The doc says, almost accusingly it seemed, “Your mother has severe liver disease. She is bleeding out, and we do not know from where. We’re going to run tests – maybe transported out if we cannot find where…” His words were mostly a blur after the first sentence.
My mother is awake. Her first words: “Well, I guess I am not going to live as long as I thought I would.”
Blood is matted in her hair and still on the side of her face. The nurse said she wiped up as much as she could. I asked the nurse if she could get me a warm wet washcloth.
I tell my mom I love her, and they are going to help her. I have no idea what words I said, but I do know I told her at least that.
I wiped up all the blood I could with the washcloth the nurse brought me. I held my mother’s hand, and I kissed her forehead, and told her she’s in good hands now.
Then a worker came to take her for the tests, and said it would be a while – at least an hour.
I told my partner we could go home, which was fifteen or so minutes away, and I would take my car back to the hospital if she wasn’t transported elsewhere.
By then, my oldest sister called me to say she was on the way to the hospital.
A nurse later told me my mother had high blood pressure in her esophagus, rupturing it, as a result of taking ibuprofen and booze together, and her liver couldn’t process any of it. The bleeding had stopped, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I heard nothing else, even though I tried to take it in.
In my mind, she was going to be okay. The bleeding stopped. She would need special care – stay hydrated, which was vitally important – get B vitamins in her, and some nutrition.
She stayed with me until our family holiday gathering a few weeks later.
I was diligent about getting her what she needed, probably annoying the hell out of her, but, oh well.
My mother was to stay at my other sister’s, who is a nurse, after our family holiday gathering. The presumption was that she was best suited to help my mother heal.
My partner and I went to my sister’s on Christmas day and had dinner with her, and our mother, and my sister’s friends who are her upstairs tenants.
I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my mother because of all the activity, but she was in good spirits, and eating, and drinking lots of water.
My sister called to tell me that our mother wasn’t feeling good the next evening, and it was probably all the food and excitement of the holiday, and that she had slept most of the day.
That night I was overcome with foreboding. I could feel my mother’s energy, or spirit – something. I tried to visualize healing energy over her body, but all I felt was heaviness. Everything felt stuck in her, but it was like a prayer, and I continued to try to send healing energy.
I called my sister and told her I thought she should take our mother to the hospital to be checked out the next day. My sister said she was watching her, and that she was getting up to use the bathroom, and take sips of water.
Sips of water? Our mother needed cups of water. She needed to stay hydrated, but I didn’t say that. My sister and my relationship was not very good. She had been prickly, and snippy, and unkind toward me for the last several years, and I avoided conflict.
I texted her the next day, and called my sister’s upstairs neighbor to ask her to please check in on my mom. My sister said our mother was just sleeping a lot, and she planned to take her to the hospital on New Year’s day if she wasn’t better by then.
New Year’s day? That was two more days! I couldn’t tell her that, either, though. I did not want to cause a scene, or be berated. And what did I know? I’m not a nurse and I wasn’t there – so I had to trust my sister.
I am deeply ashamed that I did not follow what I knew to be true, that our mother needed help beyond my sister’s capacity to do so at her house.
New Year’s day dawned and my sister called to tell me that mom was unresponsive, and they were in the hospital.
A wail came out of me that I did not know was possible. I was outside of myself.
My partner drove us the two hours to the hospital. I held my mother’s hand and I patted her hair. I sang a bit of “The Rose,” one of my mother’s favorite songs. My sister said she couldn’t feel anything, or hear anything, so it was pointless to do that. I kept doing it anyway.
Our mother died early the next morning, even though the doctors thought she might be alright – or maybe that’s what they say in that situation. Hope is positive.
Mostly, I do believe it was all for the best. I would have had my mother in the hospital, hooked up to machines, and not passing away relatively peacefully at my sister’s house.
The bigger issue is that I tried to tell my sister three times that I believed our mother needed more help, and to please, please, bring her to the hospital, and she ignored me.
What I failed to do was show up. I failed to call 911 and say my sister was unintentionally being negligent and my mother needed more help. Because I felt it, and I knew it in my being every day, from the day after Christmas until she died.
But was I just feeling my mother in her dying process? I felt like she was asking me for help. I am deeply sorry if that is true. I want to have just been in tune with what was happening.
My sister’s friend and tenant upstairs had a sweet relationship with my mother. She told me that on New Year’s day – before she had heard the news of my mother’s passing – that she had been woken up by her cat. Her cat that never did that before, she told me.
She said she got an insistent feeling to go look out her window. She told me she fought with that feeling because it was early and she wanted to sleep, but the feeling would not let her be, and neither would the cat.
She went to the window and looked out. She told me that the sky was full of color – so full of color that it was indescribable, and she was seeing colors that she had never seen before – and she heard my mother say: “I am at peace.”
I am so grateful for that. It does not take the trauma and shame away from my experience, but it does make me feel glad for my mom, out of her suffering.
My mother’s death brought my deep dysfunction with my family out in the open.
I was so bewildered with grief that I screamed at both of my sisters, howled all that I had held for years and years – grief about losing them too, grief that had never been expressed. Grief that nearly led me to suicide on several occasions.
It does not change what has passed in our lives, or who we have become by choice, or by circumstance. I can, and I am, trying to forge new relationships with them. I have also chosen to not have anyone in my life who disrespects me, or treats me badly anymore.
I have learned to love myself more than I fear losing others.
That is probably the best gift my mother could have given me.
© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh), Making A Way Blog, 2010 – current