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October 28, 2019

The Day my Mom Died.

This is something I wrote (unbelievably) almost four and a half years ago.

But my hope is that it can speak to someone and offer comfort and understanding in what can be a hopeless, lonely time.

Grief: keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.

I’d say that definition sounds about right. And then when you look up the cycle of grief, you see that it starts with denial, turns into anger, bargaining, depression, guilt, obsession, and, finally, acceptance.

I’m sure there are variations to the cycle, and I’m sure people probably even hit certain points at different times. I like this cycle because it has extreme points, and it’s honest, and it makes sense to me.

I’d say I’m in the denial stage. I’d commit to that, actually. I am in full-on denial that 17 days ago, my mom suddenly, tragically, and unexpectedly left this earth.

Seventeen days feels more like seventeen years, and yet, at the same time, I feel like I just saw her yesterday. The most surreal feeling was being at the funeral home on a Sunday at 4 p.m., planning her funeral, when at 4 p.m. Saturday, 24 hours prior, she was showing me the things that she got for Griffin at yard sales and she was perfectly fine.

Try to process that.

Best of luck.

I still haven’t.

Don’t proceed with the next part of this post if you don’t want details on what happened exactly. It’s cathartic for me to talk about it, but it’s not necessarily cathartic for everyone to read.

I will never forget that day. May 23, 2015. The day that my world fell apart.

Mom had gone to yard sales with my dad in the morning. She wasn’t particularly happy. She cried a bit before they left. Who knows what it was about.

I was so over the back-and-forth fights and disagreements that when she came over and rested her head on my shoulder, I gave her a hug, told her I loved her, looked at her, and shook my head. Sometimes you want so badly for people to want to be happy, but you can’t make them make choices that lead to that—so you just have to be loving, but not be involved. It causes too much pain. It makes you feel too responsible.

They came home around 3:30 in the afternoon with a ton of treasures for Griffin and a ton of junk that probably wasn’t needed—but it was free, so who could pass it up?

We chatted a bit. Then Mom said she felt sick. She got into her pj’s and threw up a few times. Zach (my brother) and I had done yard work all morning so we were relaxing. I was on my phone playing some dumb game. Zach was on his computer. Griffin was up from his nap and watching a movie. I went out to go get a drink from the kitchen and heard my mom say, “I just want to lay down! My chest hurts—I don’t feel good.”

That was the last thing I’ll have ever heard her say. I wish I had known that vomiting was a sign of cardiac distress in women. But how would I have known? And even if I had known, would I have necessarily thought that?

All the rest seems like a blur. I remember hearing my dad scream for help. My first thought was, Mom is diabetic. She’s been a type 1 diabetic since she was eight years old. If she was vomiting, there was a good chance that her sugar was low. Possibly low enough to need her glucagon shot.

She had fallen, apparently, up against the bathroom door, and Dad couldn’t get the door open. Her head was right in the way of the door to open. She wasn’t responding to his pleas for her to say something or move. I yelled that I would call 911.

I swear it felt like it took a year for the cops and ambulance to show up. In the meantime, my dad and brother were trying to get the door off the hinges. I started panicking. I don’t know why exactly. It seemed odd to me that she was so unresponsive. It seemed different.

They got the door off the hinges and I just heard them both yelling, my dad and my brother. Asking me if I could do CPR. I had been certified a long time ago, and I couldn’t remember how to do it. I couldn’t think. The 911 operator told me that I needed to go check on her until the ambulance got there.

I went into the bathroom and I saw her. Just lying there. Eyes glazed over. Not breathing.

I started screaming hysterically. And I couldn’t stop. What the hell was happening?! The 911 operator kept telling me to breathe. To calm down. How could I calm down? She looked lifeless. I knew that. I didn’t understand what was going on.

Then I heard him tell me that I needed to do chest compressions. He’d count with me so I could do them at the right pace. I kept telling him I couldn’t while I sat there and stared at her. Then I tried to focus. If I could do chest compressions until the ambulance got there, maybe I could save her. Maybe she’d take a breath, they’d get her fixed up at the hospital, she’d come home, and I could yell at her later for whatever had happened and for scaring us like that.

One…two…three…

“Jackie, you’re not going fast enough. Count with me.”

One…two…three…four…five…six…

Through my tears, I tried to count along with him. I felt her chest come back up beneath my hands. It didn’t feel right. She didn’t look right. What was I really seeing?

My neighbor came over, said something about knowing CPR. I couldn’t stop crying. I got up and let him take over. The police came. The ambulance came. People rushed through my house and I sat on the front steps. And screamed. Like a crazy person. Trying to keep it together. Another neighbor came over and got Griffin.

I walked out our gate and into our front yard. My neighbor’s wife came over. They brought mom out onto the porch. She was hooked up to a breathing machine and had something hooked up to her chest.

“Look! They’re still working on her! Maybe she’s okay. If they thought she couldn’t be okay, then they wouldn’t still be working on her.”

Right. Yes. That makes sense. Maybe they got her started back up. Maybe she’s fine. Oh, I’m so angry at her for scaring me like that—but I’ll worry about that later.

We got to the hospital after they took Mom by ambulance. I was in a daze. I don’t actually remember getting there. But I remember being shuffled into a small room off to the side when we did get there. I’ve seen enough movies and TV shows to know that wasn’t a good sign.

I sat down. A doctor and a nurse came in.

“I’m so sorry…we did everything we could…she had a heart attack…” and then I didn’t hear anything else she said.

No. No. No. No. This is not happening. She was fine. She didn’t have any heart problems. What is going on!? I was just talking to her a few hours ago.

My brother and I sat with her for about six hours in the hospital room that night. I fixed her hair. It was so muffed up, and she would have been so pissed to be in public like that. I rubbed her arm. I just stared at her for so long.

My brother and I sat across from each other on both sides of her. Crying when someone new would come in, talking to each other to try to process what we were seeing. Was our mom seriously gone?

We went through the whole time line with the nurse of the day. We concluded that it was so quick that she didn’t have time to feel pain. She didn’t have time to call for help. It was so quick and such a massive heart attack.

1:30 in the morning rolled around, and we both wanted to go home, but we didn’t want to leave her. I told Zach that this was our last moment to be with her by herself, so we needed to say what we wanted to say to her. We told her how much we loved her, how we were sorry for being pissy with her sometimes. How even if she didn’t think she was the perfect mom, she was. She was beautiful. We’d miss her so much.

I kissed her forehead. She felt so cold. I couldn’t stop crying.

This is where grief began.

Denial.

I saw her.

I knew the truth.

But I couldn’t accept it. Not then.

She was going to come strolling through the door, and I would be endlessly mad at her. For scaring me so bad. For testing my love for her. But I would hug her so tight and tell her how much I love her anyway.

Except that…I knew that wasn’t realistic. And I knew that wouldn’t happen.

Even if it’s what I wished with my entire heart.

My mom always told me that I was a beautiful writer. She encouraged me so much with it.

I feel the need to document my journey through this horrible grief process. To be totally raw with emotion and tell you exactly what I’m feeling at the time that I’m feeling it. Even if those feelings change over time.

My hope is to be able to help others who I wish never had to go through this pain, get through it.

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