Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Breathe In. Breathe Out.

She was sick. She had, in fact, been sick for a long time. She'd hidden it well. She would remain stationary when breathing became too difficult. Conversations were cut short. Grocery shopping only occurred twice a month instead of weekly. She confined herself to her bedroom on most days to spare the rest of the house the smudges of her fingerprints. Microwave dinners replaced home made meals. She kept her life simple. Clean. Small. She did as little as possible. Too much energy spent would cause shortness of breath and chest pains that would prompt her husband to call for an ambulance. She didn't want medical help. She had already refused the referral to a specialist. She knew that would be the beginning of procedures and medicines that would ensure she got better. Healthier. She'd live longer. And she didn't want that. She preferred death to the constant debilitating strain of life.

Over the years momma had tried to hurry death along the best way she knew how. She'd taken a handful of pills, lay down, and pray not to be awoken by the sun in the morning. Each failure confirmed the belief that she was no good. No good as a human being, mother, wife, or friend. She was so no good that she couldn't even kill herself. Waking up would fill her with such agony, that she was forced to wrap herself tight within her own arms. Rocking back and forth, she would use the movement to calm herself. She would try to convince herself that outside her bedroom door lived the normality of life that she'd never been able to experience. She'd lay there for several hours crying and cursing the day that she did not wanted to see. She felt betrayed by the sun that greeted her each morning, showing her she was still alive. She'd ride this wave until she couldn't do anything other than leave her bed and proceed to survive the day. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. Eat. Bathroom. Sleep. Repeat.

When momma could no longer carry the weight of her own mind, she would call me. Day or night. Time did not matter. I accepted the ringing as a call to arms. As her daughter, it was my job to bare her burden until she was able to lift it again. Her anguish became mine. Her tears flowed down my cheeks. I could only reassure her of my love for her. She would reminisce about the days when I lived with her. Our memories intertwined as we spoke of how I used to love her so much. I would listen as she tore through me with hate filled words. Each phrase uttered sliced through me like a blade, leaving me open and vulnerable for the next attack. I accepted the role of villain to her victim.

"Why don't you love me?" She'd inquire. "Remember when you used to love me? Worship me? Why did you leave me so young? I remember when you couldn't bare to be a part from me. Don't you?"

And I did. I did remember anxiously awaiting her arrival home from work. I could remember, with longing and fondness, sneaking into her bed at night. I could recall her arms reaching around and pulling me into her. I have performed the same ritual with my own children. Pulling their small bodies to mine. Taking in the scent of their hair. Allowing the rhythmic rise and fall of their chest to lure me back into a slumber.

I could not tell her that those precious memories of a child hood now past has been replaced with the nightly phones calls that break my soul a little at a time. My brain could not connect the mother that used to braid my hair with the woman who cried for death almost every night. If my mind were to ever make that connection, my heart would surely have broken into two.

"Momma," I said one night. "Your body was not meant to die by your hands. It was meant to survive. To thrive in a world full of elements that can kill it. Death is not an easy destination. The road that will lead you there is filled with nothing but pain. As much as you push your body to the point it will break, your body will push back even harder. It will fight with all the strength it has. And your body is strong. If you refuse to admit defeat, if you do not give up your dream of death, you will end up far worse than you are now. Your body will turn on you. It will do everything it in its power to protect itself. You could become trapped within it. Unable to do anything but be."

She never heeded my warning. When her husband took the pills and hid anything sharp, she knew of no other way to actively try to kill herself. She was almost ready to accept defeat.


The day the doctor informed her that the chronic illness she'd been living with for years had turned into a ticking time bomb, with her heart as the explosive, she almost clapped with glee. Here was her chance. She knew all she had to do was be patient and let nature handle the rest.

She wasn't prepared for the pain, however. As her heart grew larger in order to pump more oxygen to be carried through her blood stream, oxygen that her lungs no longer cared to give out, the sharp stabbing pain she felt on each unsteady pump, was too much for her. Unwilling to give her any pills, the doctors prescribed patches that barely reduced her pain.

Without any forethought or understanding, momma had sentenced herself to hell.

Unable to take it anymore, she agreed to see the specialists she had managed to avoid for so long. The news was not good. In fact, the prognosis was grim.

"You have two choices. You can continue on as you are. We will do everything in our power to make you comfortable as possible. Or you can have surgery to alleviate the pressure building within your heart. However, with the surgery you will face many risks. You run a high risk of never waking up. The chance of you regaining the ability to breathe on your own is slim. Very slim."

And there it was. The opening she had been striving for. The guarantee death she had prayed for for years. The pain. The sadness. The grief over having to live when all she wanted to was die was on its was to loosening its grip on her.

Death was welcoming her in.

"I want you to make the decision," she said to me. "Tell them to take me off the machine. Pull the plug. Whatever. Let me die."

Suicide by daughter. This was the plan. No longer able to be an active participant in her own demise, momma was handing the task to me. She trusted that I would instruct the doctors, without hesitation, as she requested. She believed I would make the right choice. Her choice.

What momma failed to realize, what she never suspected, was that each attempt she made on her own life, each phone call that stirred me out of my sleep, or disrupted my living, each time she questioned my love for her, she had planted and cultivated a seed of hate within my soul.

She could not possibly have fathomed that after years of hearing her desperate plea  for death and after repeatedly defending my love for her, after all these years, I wanted nothing more than for her to feel the pain and mental anguish that she had inflicted on me.

Death was a beautiful release that she would never get the chance to experience on her terms.

The day of the operation arrived. And just as the doctors predicted, she began to flat line as soon as her breathing tube was removed.

We sat around a conference table in a room reserved for the difficult decisions that most families do not want to make. The doctor sat across from me. Using words like "stroke", "pain", and "seizures", they described the struggle momma was facing if she were to remain on the machine. You have to make a choice, they said. They referred to her quality of life as they placed the appropriate forms in front of me, that when signed, would end her suffering.

"No." I said quietly.

Two weeks went by. Two weeks filled with seizures, morphine drips, antibiotics, steroids, and tubes running here and from there. By the end of the first week momma had swelled so much that the doctors began to discuss ways of alleviating pressure. Quality of life was again discussed.

"No." I said quietly.

Night and day, I sat by her side. I watched the monitors tell the story of her heart rate. I saw the I.V.s feed her fluids and medicines. I observed the machine breathe for her. In and out.

Her husband visited daily. Always begging for me to release her from her prison. He approached the doctors, demanding the machine be turned off. But the decision was mine and mine alone.

At the end of the second week, I stood by the hospital bed and looked down on the bloated shell that was once momma.

"Your body is a machine that was created to live. It is a living breathing machine. The more you push it to die, the more it will push back to live. All you had to do was live. You did not have to love. Just live. Breathe in. Breathe out. Eat. Bathroom. Sleep. Repeat. But, you couldn't do that. Could you? You couldn't just survive. No. You had to destroy. You had to destroy your body, your life, and me. You should have never given me the power that you didn't posses. It was your body's decision when to die. Not yours. Not mine. I don't know where your headed, but I hope it's better than the hell you're in now."

With no forethought or remorse, I gave the order to turn off the machine.

Four hours later her body decided to die.

1 comment:

  1. Made me sob enough tears to fill an ocean. So very moving and extremely thought provoking, Wes! I want so badly to give you a hug.