Excerpt from “My Mother’s Daughter” – A Tribute To My Mother

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.

Because it was my fault.

Chasing Dandelions

Mom and Taara flowers test

One of my favorite early memories from back in the ‘70’s is sitting with my mother in a field of dandelions.  I was about three or four years old.  It was a beautiful, sunny spring day.  Strong gusts of wind swirled our hair around our faces.  I can still remember my mother plucking the bright yellow dandelions that peppered the thick green grass.  As she tossed each dandelion into the wind, I shrieked with delight and scrambled to catch it before it fell to the ground.  My father just grinned in the background with the Minolta camera around his neck, snapping pictures.

Over four years have passed, and I’m still living in a world without her.  A part of me still believes that when I wake up in the morning and walk downstairs, she’ll be smiling at me in the kitchen.  Because if she were still around and her true self, there’s a good chance she would have spent a lot of time at my house.  She probably would have driven me crazy by doling out unsolicited parenting advice and spoiling her grandchildren rotten.  That’s the type of person she was and I miss her.

Oh, God.  I really miss her.  I feel like a child who wants to scream at the top of her lungs about how unfair this is.  She was taken from us too early.  And I don’t even have the memories of who she used to be in happier days to comfort me.  Most of them were consumed by the same damned illness that robbed us of her personality.  Over the span of fifteen years, my family and I tried so hard to fight against nature, but in the end, we were helpless.  It consumed her and every other aspect of our lives.

I was twenty-three years old the first time she had a seizure.  So you would think that I should be able to remember her as she was before her illness.  But I don’t.  At least, not without a struggle.  When I think of her today, my mind automatically wanders to the hospitals, rehab centers and nursing home where she spent most of the last two years of her life.  And that’s what makes her death even harder for me.  Remembering her illness and not remembering her.  How can I tell my children who their grandmother truly was when I don’t know the answer myself?

This is the main reason I’ve started this blog.  To publish what I write and capture who I am on paper.  I don’t want my children to experience the same type of pain that I am.  I want them to know who their mother was as a person.  No matter what happens, they’ll always have me through my writing.