Maybe this is a morbid subject. Some people fear death and sadly some people welcome it, or have no choice but to live with it as their shadow.
I’ve had to come to some terms with it for myself, living with a chronic illness, but it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I was thrown into the very depths of the darkness that can be death and I’m finally ready to talk about it. Express myself, and begin healing the trauma.
Until now, in my usual fashion, I closed myself off and opened my heart (only a tiny bit) to a few very special people. This is how I deal with tough times. I don’t find strength in the support of many. I survive by shutting off from people and getting on with things, in an almost mechanical way – I prefer to share my positivity, love, light and strength with others. I realise this isn’t always the best approach, but its me.
Like some of you, I have been lucky enough in life to have an extraordinary bond with my Mum. As a child, she loved me completely. Almost worshiped me at times. I don’t even remember her EVER being cross at me. As a grown woman, I have returned this love and treat her as the queen that she is to me.
To briefly paint a portrait that is my Mum, I will say that she is the definition of these two phrases,
1. A breath of fresh air; and
2. A ray of sunshine
These are not only my words to describe her. She isn’t successful in a way that society dictates through acquisition of wealth, assets or position of status but she is a force. Her spirit is indomitable and impactful and many love her…. she brightens days, and brings joy. She is full of vitality. Full of energy. Full of life.
A couple of months ago, she decided to undergo routine heart surgery to avoid a possible heart attack / diabetes etc… She was so carefree and optimistic about the procedure that she even told me if all went well, maybe she could come home the same day! I must mention here, that this woman has been a picture of health as long as I can remember. She exercises regularly, always has and takes incredible care of herself. Has barely even taken a Panadol, in my entire lifetime.
The heart surgery went well, but she fell in a hole the following day when the other side of her heart failed with a surprise blockage. Through this development & an emergency stent she ended up on a life support machine that did the work of her heart. She was also on a machine that breathed for her. She was in an induced coma. 17 days in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). During this time, amongst many complications, she had fluid on the lungs and multiple strokes, which are common side effects of the life support machines. The brief times she was awake, she had very limited movement, zero in her left side and what appeared to be vascular dementia / brain damage.
Alternating my visits with Dad’s, one of us was with her at least 12 hours a day. Every day. Some days, I would just stare at her sleeping face for hours. No thoughts. Just sitting in the only place I could be without screaming.
I had every possible emotion during this time.
- Despair. At the prospect of losing my Mum, who is my everything.
- Sadness. That her life might end here, too soon, and as an outcome of a supposed routine procedure, she was so positive about.
- Anger. At the medical system for continuously resuscitating her, keeping her alive and yet allowing these life-quality altering side effects to gain access to her ie; strokes, pressure sores, infection and the strange, seemingly callous, short-term attitudes of health care professionals toward her.
- Guilt. She wanted the surgery to avoid something happening that would reduce what she considered adverse impacts to her quality of life ie; diabetes, inability to exercise. Every time they resuscitated her, and every day she was in ICU the potential loss to the quality of her life grew greater. Brain damage was likely. Stroke paralysis definite. Both Dad & I were tormented with the thoughts that we had allowed her to be kept alive at a cost too great for Mum’s personal wishes.
- Helplessness. Real feelings that I would give my life for her to have hers back. Wanting to save her. Wanting to protect her. And being unable to meaningfully do any of these things.
- Happiness & Hope. With every piece of good news we received, which was inevitably and almost immediately followed by devastation and events even worse than the previous horrific event.
- Lost. For over a month whilst she was in ICU and then the high dependency ward, and we waited to find out how much of Mum was still there… I was floating in an abyss. I didn’t know who I was, what my purpose was. I was truly an empty vessel just going through the motions. Not knowing what I was doing. I was so lost.
Today we are in stroke rehabilitation, on a long road to recovery to reach a place where Mum can function safely with in-home care. It’s still so very hard. I am tough on her… pushing her relentlessly to do the work that I don’t even know I would be strong enough to do myself, had I been in her shoes. She laughs, jokes, teases and has an attitude I can’t even describe, it’s so mind-blowingly fabulous. I am so proud of her learning to eat and walk again, but it is heartbreaking at the same time to see the love of my life, with all her previous abilities, to be in that position at all.
Through this though, I’ve been given the rare opportunity to show the woman who carried me into this world and taught me an unconditional love… with my actions… that she really is my everything. That I will be there when it counts. That I will do the hard yards right there alongside her, carry her if she needs me to, make sacrifices for her, nurture her, fight battles for her, be tough on her and hold her tightly when it matters most.
I’m not sure if this has taught me to cherish life or to live each day to its fullest. To be honest, I’ve always had this attitude about life, even before all this happened. It hasn’t taught me to spend more time with Mum, because as I mentioned earlier, I have always treated her like a queen. I have no regrets in this regard. I do however, have a newfound respect for her determination and positivity. I think the main lesson I may have learned is that death is a part of life and when it is my time to go, I don’t want people standing in my way, because as much as I am overjoyed that my Mum is alive, with her essence intact and so full of fight…. I am still so sorry that I didn’t protect her from what might have been or even from all this, but I didn’t, because I COULDN’T.
And that is Life, Death & Love… and Acceptance. Thankfully, my Mum is made of a rare and precious substance which I can see is exactly what it takes to come back from near (multiple) death, with enthusiasm and grace to undertake what we will all describe as a miracle but I know, now more than ever, that this is actually testament of the pure wonder that is she.