After a heart attack, mitral valve damage, a second myocardial infarction and ICD implant, my mother was finally transferred from a smaller hospital in Clearwater, Florida to Tampa General Hospital. I remember waiting in the ICU waiting room for the helicopter to land and have my mom settled into a room where she would receive the advanced care she needed. Unfortunately, my mother’s condition deteriorated rapidly, something I could never have predicted. Her only chance of long term survival was a heart transplant.
It was August of 2000 when this happened. Dr. C from the transplant team came into the room to interview my mom. I have known him since 1989. I can’t remember if my sisters or my dad were in the room with me. Memories are like that, some parts of a story are vivid and some are not.
“Dolores, has anything stressful happened to you in the last year?” he asked.
“Yes, my mother died,” she said.
“Mom, what are you talking about? That happened a year ago,” I said, words that have haunted me every since, words that can never be taken back and words that were not only insensitive but incredibly naïve.
I can no longer remember the exact time line of what happened in the next twelve hours. My mother coded, and luckily my boss and best friend was the cardiologist in the room with her. She survived and we were all able to go into the room to see her before the surgeon on call was going to perform urgent mitral valve replacement. She wasn’t really awake, but the doctor was able to rouse her long enough to ask her if she recognized who was in the room with her.
“Yes, Fleischman,” she said. She often called him by our last name.
There were other things said before the code, but I only remember very few. She said she had to get home to take care of something, but we never found out what it was. She also said she didn’t want to die on my nieces birthday.
I said, “Mom, you aren’t going to die.”
I didn’t say, “I love you.” I didn’t tell her all the things I should have been telling her since I had become a parent and realized that my mother must have loved me as much as I loved my son. To be fair, we were not a very demonstrative family. We never kissed our parents good night or held hands.
She was wheeled into surgery and we were absolutely sure she would survive. Hours into the night we waited. My mother did survive the initial valve replacement, but as they were closing her, she began to bleed. They did another valve replacement, but my mother was not strong enough to survive. We never got to talk to her again.
Seventeen years have gone by. My child is grown and is a parent now. My nieces and nephews are grown. Angel never got to meet her and neither did my granddaughter.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. Every time I am with my sisters a mommy story is told. Mostly we talk about her like we saw her yesterday. She visits me in my dreams and we can often feel her presence in my dad’s house.
Almost everything in my dad’s house is the way my mom left it. When I am there I am comforted by the fact that my dad knows we love him and he knows we loved her, even if we didn’t show it and often didn’t act like it.
I often think about how she lost her father when she was only 19. She married shortly after and raised a family without her dad. We didn’t talk about it much. After I lost her I realized she must have thought about him every day. She carried on with strength and dignity and so do I. Crying is left for the shower or long solo car rides. I bet that is what she did, too.
So tomorrow is Mother’s Day again. We don’t really celebrate because we don’t have our mom anymore. Even though I am a mother and grandmother, the holiday was never about me. It was about my mom.
She lost her mother a year ago, she said. Yes, mom, you were right and I am so sorry I didn’t know.