It was a cold, freezing rainy Monday night in January- the 15th day of 2018, to be exact.
I came home from a City Council meeting and, as a pregnant lady, I was exhausted and achy.
Laying down on the couch with Brian was exactly how I wanted to relax! We were under a big down blanket and were watching Netflix. It was after 10 o’clock, and we were usually in bed with our phones turned off by then, but we were still up on this particular night.
My phone was sitting on the coffee table, and it rang, catching us by surprise. It was my mom’s husband, Bill, saying, “Your mom fell, and you should come visit. The ambulance took her to the hospital.”
I asked for more information but he reiterated she had fallen and we should go to the hospital to see her. It was so icy outside that I assumed she’d fallen when walking across the driveway to my grandparents’ home, and maybe she hurt her elbow or shoulder or knee? We packed up our things and got in my Subaru, then headed up to Wausau. I-39 was very slippery, so we took our time, and we were worried but still pretty calm. In hindsight, that was a huge gift. If I had known how serious things were, the drive would have been a nightmare.
When we arrived at Saint Claire’s, we were the first ones there. That was a big surprise for me, since my family lives so much closer than we do, and the icy roads made the drive 45 minutes long. Someone ushered us back into a small room, The Quiet Room, telling another staff person that Patient Number Two’s family had arrived. Looking around the room, I immediately knew something was wrong, and I instinctively put my hand on my baby bump. The doctor came in and asked us what had happened to my mom. The doctor looked very concerned, so I was alarmed, because I didn’t really know what had happened. I passed along the information that she had fallen but that was all I knew. Different people stopped in the room, and they asked me two or three times, “So, what happened tonight?”
The air became so heavy in that little room and I knew something was terribly wrong. “Brian, call my aunts. All of them. Call someone.”
I asked to see my mom, and they said they needed to see if it was OK for me to see her. My heart sank.￼￼￼￼￼ Why would they need to check? Check on what?
“She is in extremely critical condition.”
I don’t remember much that happened after that. At some point my grandparents and Bill arrived. I was so upset, but my grandpa didn’t know what was going on because he cannot hear. He saw me holding my baby bump, and asked loudly, “Is the little kicker moving?” He smiled at me… and I nodded yes, even though that was a lie… I hadn’t been able to feel Teddy move yet. Extremely critical condition.
At some point, the rest of my family (my aunts and uncles) started arriving. I have no idea how much time elapsed, but I was shocked that they were already there. I don’t know when the doctors came and brought me back, but I remember holding Brian’s hand and just knowing the worst was coming. When we entered the ER room (maybe room number three on the left?), she was laying on a stretcher with a large compression machine on top of her chest.
I was so scared.
She looked awful.
The machines were large and loud. Lots of air inflating sounds and beeping. The CPR machine looked violent, and her small 5’2″ frame jerked with each compression.
Looking at her face, I knew she was gone. I immediately grabbed her hand and put it on my bump. I desperately wanted her to feel Teddy in there. In hindsight, I don’t know why I did that. Of course, I am devastated that my mom is not here for my pregnancy, labor, for Teddy’s life. I don’t know why I wanted her to feel my bump, but that was what I did.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Everyone came to visit in that room, and everyone cried. It felt like I was having an out of body experience, and I couldn’t believe where I was or what was happening.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Since both of my grandparents are hard of hearing, they often speak very loudly because they cannot hear themselves. I could hear my grandma loudly talking in the hallway, “I’m worried about the baby. What if she loses the baby?” I know she meant well, and that worry was probably already on the minds of everyone, including me. One of the nurses (or doctors, maybe?) realized I was pregnant and brought me some water and a chair. She said that I really needed to focus on hydration. I’d cried a lot already. I took a few shaky sips out of that small crinkly plastic water bottle.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Eventually, the ER doctors asked my mom’s husband what we should do with my mom. She would never recover. Machines were the only thing keeping her alive, and we all knew it. Bill said that the decision was up to me, which was overwhelming at the time, but a very kind gesture. I made the decision to turn the machines off, and she died very soon afterwards. I held her delicate little hand until she started getting cool.
Things got very strange.
Apparently after someone dies in the ER, the hospital immediately asks you what funeral home you want to use. I was completely shocked, and I had no idea.￼ Funeral. Home. Funeral home. Funeral home?
I don’t know any funeral homes.
It has been a long time since I lived up there. My grandma has a local funeral home director in her rosary group, so she suggested that we use that facility. I agreed, without even realizing what a serious (and expensive!) decision we had made. The doctor said we could stay as long as we wanted to, but eventually you have said everything you can say and you feel like you should￼￼ leave…
But where would we go?
What would we do?
What would happen to Mom?
Would I see her again?
We were escorted out to the lobby and we stood there, completely lost. I was wide awake, even though it was 3 o’clock in the morning. We called the nurse line for my OB/GYN, and asked them what I could do to help myself calm down and sleep. They recommended Benadryl, so Brian and I drove to the store.
Walmart was the only store that was open, and being a Target girl myself, I can’t tell you the last time I was in a Walmart store. We walked around aimlessly for a while, and I was lost in a very weird place in my mind. I have a lot of memories with my mom, and some of them were in a Walmart. I cried remembering shopping there with Mom. This phenomenon happened over and over for months. I’d do something that I once did with Mom, or go somewhere that I once went with her, or use something that she once used, and I’d go into a tailspin of tears.
I couldn’t believe that my mom was gone- it felt like the last couple hours were a terrible dream or something.
I remember texting my best friend Amy at 4 AM that night, as we drove past Log Cabin on the way home, to tell her that my mom had died. I did not expect a response, although she was awake with Baby Lyra. In hindsight, that’s a ridiculous thing to text someone in the middle of the night. Thanks for reassuring me, Amy.
On the way home, I got a call from the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, wanting to know if we would donate my mother’s corneas. It was probably during the 4:00 hour. She was an organ donor, and they wanted to know if they could send someone for her eyes. Everything was so overwhelming, but this seemed like something that we needed to do, so we agreed. I had to answer a lot of questions and didn’t know all the answers. I tried not to get overwhelmed but in that moment, I couldn’t remember when she had elbow surgery and I didn’t know what mediations she was on.
So much had happened in such a short period of time, but this organ donation was a small bright spot.
When we got home to Stevens Point, I just laid in bed and cried myself to sleep.
Somehow, our close friends and family found out what had happened, and the preparations for Mom’s funeral were put into place. The next day, I sat on the couch in our little home, binge watching Will & Grace. As I grieved, I found comfort in rewatching old sitcoms.
My friend, Amanda, had lost her own mother to cancer while Amanda was pregnant. She drove up from Madison and was sitting next to me on that couch. She was such a blessing, as she helped prepare me for the difficult decisions to come. I’ll write more about that process (and share all the questions that I wish I could have asked my mom) in another blog post in the future. I don’t know that people in their 30s are prepared for this kind of thing, and there is a lot that I would have done differently if I knew then what I know now.
Eventually, I had to go back to the ER to pick up my mom’s personal items. She had some cash and change in the pocket of her black jeans, and I had to go get it from the security office in person. Horrifying.
I cried so much during this time that I developed severe pain in my eye, from my tear ducts being so irritated and swollen and the natural oils being too diluted by the excess tears. I didn’t know that was even possible.￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼ I’m thankful that we have a good eye doctor to take care of my vision.
The OB/GYN staff under Dr. Stoffel was incredible. Not only did the on call doctor call me the night Mom died to talk to me about Benadryl and hydration, they let me come in the following day to hear Teddy’s heartbeat. I came in twice that week, and every week after that until he was viable. They took such good care of me, knowing everything we’d gone through to get pregnant and how worried I was that something had happened to him because of my grieving.
I cannot think Brian enough for taking care of everything during this time. He took care of me, the house, the dog, calling and talking to everyone, arranging for meetings, and making sure that everything else was taken care of. At some point, I shifted into work mode, and was able to help take care of logistics of the funeral, despite my insane grief.
Brian stayed home from work as long as he could, then he returned after a couple weeks. He would come home from work to a sobbing, pregnant wife who hadn’t moved all day. I can’t imagine how hard that was. I love you, honey. ❤️
This post is for me as much as it is for you. I want to remember these strange and sad moments and the process of grieving, so I’m documenting it here.
I also want to remind everyone to cherish those that they love. Life is so short. It feels insincere and cliché so say it like this, but I really mean it. People can be taken from us at any time, and we may not be able to say goodbye. Tell the ones you love how you feel as often as possible. You never know when it will have been your last chance. ❤️
For example: my whole family got together the day before my mom died to celebrate my beloved Grampie’s birthday. I skipped the party because my in-laws were celebrating Christmas, and I didn’t want to be difficult, considering how hard it is to get everyone together. I’ll never forgive myself for missing that birthday party. I could have had one more day together with my mom. 😭
I know she knew I loved her, but I wish I could say it to her face a million times more.
I love you, Mom. We miss you. ❤️