I know that I often joke about my family tree being a shrubbery; it’s funny because it’s true. I am beyond fortunate to have 6 parents, only one of whom is biological. Yesterday marked the four year anniversary of one of the most tumultuous weeks I’ve ever had.
It truly was a tale of two journeys, two paths, connected in time in the oddest way.
I’d received a call while at work from my little sister, she was upset and crying. They’d found her mom, one I considered my own, unresponsive in her apartment parking lot after she’d not shown up to work. They had rushed her to the hospital, though it wasn’t clear which one. After checking on how my sister was handling the news, I asked her to please keep me in the loop and said I would leave work if she needed me. I then called my boss to fill him in. The day was busy and when it wasn’t, I busied myself. I called my mom as well, but she didn’t answer.
As I was preparing to leave work for the day, planning to call my sister for an update before heading home, I received a text from my older brother: “Did mom’s husband call you?” I walked out to my car and replied “No, should he have?” Within a minute my phone was ringing and my brother was explaining to me that our mom had been rushed to the hospital, and was likely going to be admitted to the ICU. He was waiting to pick up my niece from school before heading up to Lafayette.
I sat silently in my car, in a parking lot just west of work, fighting back tears. It was 10 days before the one year anniversary of one of my best friends dying in my arms, and I already wasn’t handling it well- despite outward appearances. “Did I lose you?” came a familiar voice from the phone I had forgotten I was holding. I took a deep, steadying breath and told him I’d plan to meet him up at the hospital for our mom, I asked that he let me know when he was heading that way. We hung up, and I sat in that empty parking lot and had never felt so torn in my life. How was I supposed to be in two places at once, for two moms I love, especially when I was barely holding it together already?
I reached out to a friend in Lakewood, asking if I could come by for a drive by hugging. She said absolutely, without asking any questions, and I made my way to her place safely between the traffic and the tears. Walking in the door, she wrapped me in a hug and when she let me go; her roommate hugged me as well. Both ladies offered me a seat and asked what was going on. I was also informed that my friend’s husband would be home from work soon, and he too would hug me. Knowing I was short on time and short of words, I opted to wait until he got home before sharing what little news I had. More hugs.
My phone rang; my brother was on his way north, which meant I had about 10 minutes to wrap up before I needed to head out to meet him on time. The husband and wife duo assured me I was welcome to come back or to call if I needed anything at all. Their roommate looked me square in the face and said she didn’t think I should be driving. I insisted that I had to go; we needed to find out what was going on with my mom. She said she understood, but that I shouldn’t drive. I became frustrated and told her I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me and I didn’t have time to argue. She started picking up her keys, wallet, glasses and a book. When asked what she was doing, she said “I’ll drive you.” “That’s absurd, why would you do that?” I asked, not meaning to sound as snarky as I’m sure I did. “Because” she said, “you need to see your mom.” As we walked out the door together and got in her car, I asked “What are you going to do once we get there? You don’t know my mom.” With a slight smile she replied “You’re right, I don’t know her. But hospitals have these neat little areas called waiting rooms. I’ll go and wait, until you’re ready.” We made the trek up north in silence as my mind swirled.
My brother, sister in law and niece all met us at the hospital entrance. The elevator ride was silent, and once on the ICU floor, the roommate slipped away to the waiting room without a word. Perplexed looks followed, but no words came. The ICU nurse was willing to break the two at a time visitor rule, and let us know that she was doing much better and was finally lucid. She was septic but no longer delirious and had calmed down greatly. As long as she continued to improve, she’d hopefully be out in a couple days. We kept our visit fairly short, per nurse’s orders. It did my heart good to see her sitting up and trying to smile through everything she was enduring.
Walking out of her room, I let my brother and his family know about my sister’s mom, at least as much as I could. Since he has the ability to work remotely, he said he’d go up and work from her room the next day so that I would be freed up for my sister. We gathered the roommate on our way out, and went our separate ways. On the way back south, the roommate offered to stop and get me food. Nothing sounded even remotely good and after a handful of shot down suggestions, she let it go.
Once back at their house, I was given a second round of hugs. Another of their roommates was home, and I don’t know if they’d told him what was going on, but assume they did. Without a word, he set a cup of hot tea down in front of me, touched my shoulder and walked away. The tea bag tag had an Aristotle quote that read “All human actions have one of more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion and desire.” I pondered that for a minute, and soaked the warmth of the cup into my hands, focusing on feeling the warmth. I took a small sip before that moment of respite was interrupted by my phone ringing. It was my little sister who said through tears “I need you.” I told her I just needed to know where I was going. “Aurora South” was the reply, and I told her I was on my way.
Again, the roommate insisted that I didn’t drive. Trying to argue with her seemed to be an effort in futility, so we headed for the door and I cut the tag off the tea bag, shoving it in my pocket as we got in the car. Once again the trip was silent, and once again I was met just inside the hospital entrance by one of my siblings. As I wrapped her in a hug, she broke down sobbing. We found a bench for her to sit on, and I sat on the floor in front of her holding her hands while we cried.
We sat for; I don’t know how long, before her father (my sperm donor) came and sat down beside her. He and I made eye contact, possibly for the first time in my life, and it was as though there was an unspoken “There are greater things at play” message exchanged. He let us know the nurses were asking for her, and after making sure she was ready, we headed back.
Her mom’s hospital room was dimly lit, and even though I had heard “unresponsive” that morning, I think seeing my mom sitting up in the ICU gave me a false sense of hope. Though it wasn’t my first, nor last time, seeing someone I love hooked up to machines and a ventilator, I don’t know that I was quite ready. My face gave something away to my brother in law as he sat next to her bedside with her best friend. The nurse was giving an update on her status, which was that there had been no change really. Waiting with the sounds of machines was what our future held. As the nurse left the room, my phone rang again. Without looking, and assuming it was news about my mom, I said “I have to get this” and left the room.
My best friend from high school was on the other end of that call. “I hear you’re having a really bad day. Do you want to talk about it, be distracted or do you need to let me go?” were the words that greeted me. “Distracted” was my reply, knowing full well we’d get to ‘the talk about it’ part, and that he’d tell me what I already knew- she wasn’t going to make it. I meandered up and down hospital hallways, both crying and laughing in turns. By the end of the call, which was maybe half an hour long, he’d assured me to the best of his ability that I was strong enough to handle this, and that he was just a phone call away.
Making my way back to her room, I was met by my brother in law. He asked what was wrong, and I told him, while insisting that my sister not know. She was already a wreck, and while my mom was also in the ICU, she was stable and I couldn’t say the same thing about hers. I didn’t want her to feel conflicted or in any way guilty, because I was certain I was exactly where I needed to be. He gave me a hug and mumbled something about how he didn’t know how I was doing this.
The next day or two are a blur now, and they certainly were then. There were numerous phone calls, doctor visits, consultations and tests for both moms. One continued to improve, while the other did not. At some point, the roommate showed up again at the hospital with Olive Garden breadsticks (that’s all my sister wanted to eat) and a change of clothes for me (that weren’t mine), since I was still in my work clothes from earlier in the week. She also brought my sewing machine and the banner I was working on, because I’d promised it would be done that weekend and while the friends the banner was for were not concerned about it- I absolutely was. Between updates on both moms, trying to help my sister cope and thanking my brother, my boyfriend at the time lost his mind because I wasn’t spending time with him. It was a mess, so instead of trying to sleep in the early morning hours, I sewed in the waiting room and I finished that banner.
Thursday was met with the knowledge that there are different guidelines for kidney donation in comparison to the other organs. Knowing her mom would want her kidneys to be of help, we set forth with the steps involved in that process. Just before noon that day, my mom was released from the hospital up north. I was grateful, while sensing the irony that one mom was going home and the other was going home.
The next few hours were filled with talks with the Organ Donation coordinating team, and deciding how the last few moments should be spent. Songs and lyrics were pored over, until we picked the right 5 to play as she left us. My sister wanted to draw a rose on her mom, the tattoo she never got. Since I didn’t have my car, I didn’t have my supplies. Walking out into the waiting room to see what I could find, even if only dry erase markers, I found not only the roommate but another dear friend, who were there in support of me. That friend also happened to have sharpies in his car, and so the rose was able to happen. I helped facilitate everyone getting their chance to say their goodbyes, even her dad, while my sister never left her mom’s side.
When the time came, there were five of us in the room with her as she took her final unassisted breaths. Much to the surprise of the organ donation team, she lasted through almost all five of the songs we picked, leaving us just before midnight to the sounds of Toby Keith singing “As Good As I Once Was”. It was as peaceful as a sterile operating room could be, and thankfully she fell within the requirements of kidney donation. I physically supported my sister as she held her mom, and I held the knowledge that this tragedy was the blessing other’s had been asking for.
We all left the hospital together, hugged and went our separate ways. I went back to the roommate’s house and slept for the first time in a week. When I woke, I had another cup of hot tea placed in front of me and a hand on the shoulder. This tea bag tag read “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome” from Booker T Washington. I savored that tea before going for a late brunch with my friend and her roommate.
I think about that week often. I think about the support I had, often times despite my own efforts. Grateful doesn’t even begin to express the depth of feels I have for those who gave me hugs, called, brought food and clothes or came just to sit and hold space, for every prayer or candle lit- my heart still overflows. Every single time I felt alone that week, there was a physical and friendly reminder that I was not by myself- and I never am.
Yesterday I pondered the dichotomy between life and death, tragedy and blessings, loss and gain, and I was humbled. I am humbled. I compared the vibrant sunrise from the morning before to the subtle beauty that met me yesterday. On my way home, I grabbed some breadsticks and I sent my sister roses- just like the one drawn on her mom. I took the two tea bag tags off of my dashboard where they’ve lived for the last 4 years and contemplated their words. In addition to what Booker T Washington said, I’d add that support has to come in at some point. We never overcome things alone.
I listened to the song WFG had given me the week before that tumultuous week. It was a song that became a theme song of sorts, and reflecting on the lyrics and where I was compared to where I am, I dare say I’m on my way. What a journey it’s been.
“And I’m not gonna waste one minute of this life
I got a second chance to do what is right
I’m gonna dance in the rain, and lay out in the sunshine
Take all my pain and turn it in into moonlight
Take all my pain, and melt it with the sunshine
Take all my pain, and turn it into white light
Take all my pain, and give myself a good life”
With a grateful heart,