On April 6th I talked to my parents on the phone as I normally do every day. I call them when I take my morning walk and just chat for usually 15 minutes or so. I talked to them both and all was pretty normal.
On April 7th I received a call no one ever wants to receive. It was just past 8:00 in the morning and, fortunately, my 8:00 meeting had just cancelled. My phone showed my dad calling and I almost skipped the call as he has a habit of dialing me accidentally but, I answered it.
My dad is a very stoic person. It’s rare to see any emotion from him but he was crying. My mom wouldn’t wake up and he had just called for an ambulance.
I live 1,200 miles away from my parents. There wasn’t much I could say except for “I’m on my way.” At this point no one knew what the problem was and we were hoping for the best. Still, I immediately bought a plane ticket (a round trip thinking I would be there until she went home and then head home myself) and was at the airport 2 hours later.
When I was in the TSA line my father and brother called again. It was time to make “the decision.”
A CT scan revealed mom had a massive 7cm aneurysm in the left side of her brain brought on by what they think was probably tumors throughout her brain. She had had a huge (many pound) cyst about 15 years ago and it looked like that had come back as well but was now possibly malignant and leading to the apparent tumors in her brain. They could operate on the aneurysm but the chance of survival was less than 5% with no chance of her recovering speech or other aspects of a normal life and this was was even before they attacked the possible tumors (even if benign the growth in her side was a massive recovery last time and would be again).
I asked them both “what would mom want?” Without hesitation they both said “not to live like that.” I told them then they knew the answer and I agree it was the right one. Not only would mom not want to live like that (assuming she was really lucky to survive the surgery at all) but, if she had the following months or more would’ve killed them both in the hospitals and recovery.
I got to the hospital in Waukegan, IL at about 4:00 pm and, soon after, they removed Mom’s life support. For the next 3.5 days she basically sounded and looked like she was sleeping as we kept vigil at the hospital where they set her up in hospice.
My mom passed away on Tuesday, April 11th at about 3:00 am. She was only 73 years of age. In a family that was pretty split between those that died of alcohol or smoking in their 40s and living well into their 80s and 90s this was quite a surprise.
As I write this I’m still in Chicago helping my dad adjust to life without her. They had their 50th wedding anniversary on March 10th, not even a month before the incident, and he still has a lot of adjusting to do.
On top of adjusting to life without mom was proceeding with what she would want. They had done absolutely zero planning so I went to work on cremation (the only thing dad knew she would’ve wanted) and a burial spot near her parents and most of her family. It was even harder getting 2 spots so my parents will, one day, be together again but we needed to think ahead as well so that’s what we did.
We still have a memorial for mom this coming Sunday but her ashes now rest just a few meters from her parents and much of the rest of her family like I think she would’ve wanted. After Sunday I’m hoping for closure of this part of the journey as we embark on making sure my dad is ready for life without her.
My mom and I didn’t always have the closest relationship. It wasn’t until I was an adult that my relationship was much of anything at all with either of my parents. Over the last 20 years, however, we had been very close. We visit them a few times a year and they visit us. I talk to them almost daily and we’ve even done some traveling together. I was planning a surprise trip for them later this year and still trying to get them to renew their passports when this happened and I’m not sure I’ve yet fully come to grips with all of it.
In the 2+ weeks since she passed I’ve found myself saying “I’ll have to tell mom about this” more than once. I’ve been so busy helping dad and my brother adjust that, sans a few small breakdowns, I haven’t really processed it myself.
Maybe that’s for the better.
I miss my mom, but in some ways I’m also happy for her. While we will never know for sure what the CT scan was really showing us she had zero symptoms of anything wrong right up until she went to bad on April 6th. There was no suffering, no agonizing, no painful treatments or wear and tear on my dad watching her decline. She went out happy and, honestly, I really do hope I’m that lucky one day.
One of my greatest fears in life is suffering for years with some sort of terminal disease. That she didn’t have to do that like her father had done with lung cancer and as so many others we’ve seen over the years is sad, but also a relief.
Now, I hope, the healing can begin.
I’ll always miss you, Mom. Thank you for all you’ve given us.