When Life Knocks You Down, You Will Find The Strength To Go On

In and out.  In and out.  Gasping.  Rasping.  In and out.  The sound of my mother’s breathing broke the silence of the hospital room.  I shivered and pulled the chair closer to her bed.  Her room was always freezing.  I understood the reason.  Cold keeps the germs at bay.  But it was already difficult to sleep through the night in her room.

She was awake.  I knew it without even looking at her.  Her breathing changed.  That rough, rhythmic pattern was replaced by wet gurgling.  With mixed feelings, I paged the ICU nurse.  Someone entered the room, took one look at my mother struggling for air, and briskly slipped on a pair of gloves.  “Okay, I’m going to suction you,” the nurse said calmly, and adjusted the dials on the tubes that traveled down my mother’s trachea.

I cringed as my mother turned her gaze to me.  Her brown eyes welled up with tears as she gagged.  I held my mother’s hand and looked away through my own tears.  I hated this.  Watching her get suctioned felt like a punch in the stomach.  I felt like retching myself.  I hated feeling so God damn helpless.  There was nothing I could do to ease my mother’s pain.  All I could do was sit beside her and hold her hand as the nurse vacuumed the thick mucus that was slowly suffocating the life out of her.  It was just part of life on the ventilator.

After the nurse finished, my mother’s breathing returned to its former rhythm.  In and out.  In and out.  Gasping.  Rasping.  In and out.  Both of us knew that it would only be a matter of time before the mucus accumulated and I would have to call the nurse.  Again.  But until then, we tried to get some rest.

I’m not sure how she did it, but my mother actually fell back to sleep.  Maybe it was a side effect from her medications.  And there were plenty of them.  I created a spreadsheet to track all of them.  Actually, I created color-coded spreadsheets to track everything about her case.  Blue was for medication.  Green was for physical, occupational and speech therapies.  Yellow was for hygiene and miscellaneous items.  And Pink was for tracking meals and feeding tube maintenance.  It was the only thing I could do that gave me some sense of control.  But the truth was that I really had no control.  None of us did.  We were fighting against nature and losing.

After watching my mother’s chest rise and fall for half an hour, I finally felt comfortable enough to close my eyes.  But sleep didn’t come easily to me that night.  Between the rock hard chair and the bone-chilling cold, I had a rough time getting any sleep in the hospital room.  The moment I drifted off, my mother’s liquid coughing woke me.  Two more rounds of suctioning, followed by intercepting my mother’s team of doctors as the stopped by her room for their morning rounds.  After grilling them and filling in my spreadsheets, I had one hour to sleep before my father arrived for the “day shift.”  But another problem prevented me from napping.

I started cramping.

After several years of marriage, my husband and I finally decided that our wait was over. We wanted to be parents.  At thirty-six years old, my odds of having a healthy pregnancy were decreasing with each passing day.  Despite my mother’s illness, I couldn’t put off having children any longer.  We had to try.

The cramps grew worse.  It felt like someone was ripping out the walls of my uterus.  I gritted my teeth and swore that I would see a doctor about them after I left the hospital.  The moment my father arrived, I kissed my mother on the cheek and hurried out of the room.

Once I walked down the hall, I felt something wet trickle down my leg.  I ran to the bathroom and saw that it was blood.  In tears, I called my husband and told him to meet me in the ER at the hospital.  I was almost seven weeks along.  I stepped into the elevator and headed downstairs to ground level.  The receptionist immediately made me sit down in a wheelchair and an orderly whisked me off to a room where I began the slow process of losing the baby.

It continued through the day.  I was grateful that it ended in time for me to return to my mother’s bedside the following evening.  I was devastated, but I couldn’t afford to indulge myself with the luxury of mourning.  My mother needed me.  I said nothing to her or my father, but I felt like dying inside.

People have asked me how I did it.  How did I push down my own sorrow to be there for my parents?  I don’t know the answer to that question.  I don’t claim to have more strength or resilience than the next person does.  I’m not looking for a pat on the back for something that I think anyone else in my situation would have done.  I am writing this for people who are going through the most painful experience of their lives.  My hope is that you will find comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone.  You will find the strength from someplace within and get through whatever brought you to your knees.  The source of that strength may be your faith.  It may be your family, or it may be something completely different.  But that strength will rise up and carry you through every painful minute of every painful day.  And you will do what needs to be done.  I have faith in that.  And I have faith in you.



6 thoughts on “When Life Knocks You Down, You Will Find The Strength To Go On

  1. Ann Coleman says:

    What a moving post, Taara! I’m sure it wasn’t easy for your to share that, but I understand why you did. I think it does help people to know that they really do have the strength to get through some very tough times, by showing them that other people, just like them, have done so. Life can be very hard sometimes, and encouragement like this helps. A lot!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Taara Donley says:

      Thank you, Ann. Yes, this one was tough for me to write. I had a few friends going through a really rough time, so I wrote this with them in mind. I was hoping that they would find comfort in knowing that even in the darkest hour, we are all capable of amazing strength. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gina Rich says:

    Hi Taara, this is so beautifully written but also so very sad. On a personal note, your description of the ICU experience hit very close to home with me, as I recall sitting with my mom when her illness was in its final stages. My family often took “shifts” by her bedside as well, watching her go through breathing treatments and listening to doctors debate whether to start dialysis and other interventions. In those months, my mom became a mere shell of herself as the disease overtook her.
    Your mom sounds like a lovely person; I know it is so hard to have your last memories of someone you love overshadowed by the physical suffering he or she experienced. I totally agree that somehow, you find the strength to get through those acute moments, but the grief hits you at different times, even years or decades later. I hope writing about your mom has helped bring you peace. Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring all of us to remember that, even when things seem impossible, we will survive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Taara Donley says:

      Hi Gina, I’m sorry that you had to experience something similar. This is a painful sisterhood, isn’t it? I wish that most of my memories of my mother weren’t clouded with illness. Thank you so much for your sweet comments. I really appreciate them.


  3. Liz says:

    Hi Taara, I stumbled across your blog and your story is eerily similar to mine, from being the “daughter of foreigners” to being a female engineer and now I read this post and the tears streamed down my face. I lost my mother in January to cancer, I was her caregiver and stood by her side every day over the past year watching the horrible disease slowly take her away from me. I know all to well the numbing strength that somehow gets you through the day, the hope that tomorrow will be better, the overwhelming joy when it is and the heartbreaking disappointment when its not. I know the unspeakable pain of looking into your dear mother’s beautiful brown eyes seeing both her pain and her strength. And I know the struggles of trying to get pregnant through all that. My husband and I so desperately tried to give my mother a grandchild before she passed but we weren’t able to. I am 37 and also miscarried twice in the past year. She never knew we were trying.

    Your writing is beautiful, honest, poignant and funny. Please keep it up, you’re touching more people than you’ll ever know. I have no doubt your mum is proud of you. You and your family are in my thoughts and feel free to reach out to me if you ever need to vent to a fellow member of this “painful sisterhood”. I have no comforting words for you because I know there is nothing that could be said that would ever bring any sense of comfort. But know you are not alone. Lean on your “sisters” however and whenever you need to.


    • Taara Donley says:

      Liz, I tried posting a comment on Friday and thought it went through, but it doesn’t appear that way, so I’ll try again. Thank you so much for your sweet comment. I am so sorry that you lost your mother. Please accept my deepest condolences. This is a difficult sisterhood to join, but I hope you find comfort in the knowledge that you aren’t alone. Much love to you and your family. If you want to chat, you can reach me at taara@umich.edu.


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