When Mom Left
December 29th, 2017 was the day I lost my Mom. She’d hosted Christmas for our extended family just 4 days prior. Tina, claiming to be down with a migraine, had declined to accompany me. I was disappointed, but my mom commented, “maybe that’s for the best,” when I mentioned it. I’d gone to Tina’s family function on Christmas Eve.
My Mom’s sister Linda had been staying at the house for the week and my other Aunt Ileen, who lived in the neighborhood had been visiting frequently. The three sisters seemed to be having a grand time.
It was a Friday and I had been trying to reach Tina in hopes of spending some time together over the weekend, but she’d not bothered to take my call or answer my texts. I’d given up on her and decided to go visit some friends.
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I took a shower and was just getting dressed when my aunts both began shouting my name up the stairs. It sounded urgent. I pulled on my shirt and dashed down to the living room, asking “what is it?”
My Aunt Ileen ushered me towards the dining room, where my Mom was lying on her back on the floor. Her head was propped up on a one-gallon paint can that had been left there for a project I was getting ready to do. She appeared to be unconscious.
I was struggling to comprehend the situation – it was far from when I expected. I thought maybe they’d seen a mouse or something like that.
“She’s not breathing,” Linda said.
“She’s not breathing?” I repeated, trying to force that information into my brain.
“Do CPR!” Ileen said. “It’s 2 breaths and 30 compressions, I think.”
“They don’t teach breaths anymore,” I said, academically. “It’s just chest compressions.” I was scrambling to recall how to go about it, beginning to panic as realization of the dire situation finally started to penetrate. My mom was dying? I flashed on a memory from health class. I failed the CPR unit, having “killed” the Resusi-Anne Doll, the computer indicated, by breaking her ribs with too much pressure in my compressions.
“Call 911,” I said as I began pressing on my mother’s chest. After about 10 compressions, she noticeably exhaled, her breath fluttering her lips with a snoring kind of sound. I didn’t know what a death rattle was at the time, but looking back, I believe that’s what it was.
I stopped compressions for a moment to see if she was breathing on her own. She didn’t seem to take another breath, so I resumed.
Once an operator was on the phone, my aunt held the phone to my head and I did my best to explain the situation. They started counting compressions for me, because I was going too slow at first. “One-two-three-four…” She counted rapidly to thirty and started again. Time ceased to have meaning, but firefighters and paramedics crowded into the house with big jackets and heavy boots to take over the lifesaving attempt. I think they arrived pretty fast. A matter of minutes.
“She was just standing, there, talking to us and suddenly fell over,” my aunt said. When she fell, her head hit the paint can. It was gruesome. I wondered what additional damage that may have caused.
I sat on the couch, definitely in a state of shock and looked on as they cut my mom’s shirt off and attached electrodes. They used a machine for respiration and compressions. There was a flurry of activity. It seemed like at least 6 people were working her. I’m not sure. It’s hazy.
“Look away, Dan,” one of my aunts said.
I had the presence of mind to begin informing people of Mom’s situation. I tried calling my brothers but neither answered, so I sent texts. I texted my ex wife while I was at it, and Tina.
“Mom collapsed,” I wrote. “I think she’s dead.”
Tina replied to that message quickly and said she would rush to my side. I was grateful but didn’t know where we’d be and told her to wait.
A paramedic came over to explain what they were observing. She said mom’s heart wasn’t pumping, more like it was twitching and they were going to transport her to the hospital.
Everyone converged on the Emergency Room. I drove my aunts and was reminded of the time a few years prior I’d driven my mom and these two aunts to the hospital when my grandmother had similarly collapsed.
Terrified, but hoping and praying, my brothers, my uncle and others began to arrive and fill up the family room we’d been assigned. Eventually, we were given the word that Mom was dead. She’d had a massive heart attack that killed her almost instantly. For all our efforts, she’d been gone for quite some time.
I went, alone into the dark room where she lay and spoke a quiet goodbye, apologizing that I couldn’t save her, lamenting the hard life she’d lived, feeling guilty and hoping that I’d somehow prove myself worthy of all she’d done for me.
Once we were leaving the hospital, I texted Tina again to ask her to meet me back at Mom’s house. She said nothing could keep her away and she’d be there as fast as humanly possible.
I was on the front porch having a cigarette in the cold when I saw Maura’s silver Saturn pull up in front. I was surprised. Just a month prior, I’d given Tina a car for her birthday, so I expected she’d drive herself, but I soon understood. She was drunk and thanks to someone’s wisdom, she’d gotten a ride from her mom.
My aunts offered to stay with me at the house, but I had my Tina and that was all I thought I needed. They went home for the night. My ex-wife, Jessica who had been very close to my mother was in shock, herself. At one point, I remember her picking up copious amounts of medical debris that was left strewn across the house and frantically scrubbing a blood stain that had been left on the floor where Mom had lain. I never knew for sure where the blood came from.
Once we were alone in the house, I found Tina a great comfort. We cuddled up in my bed and I was finally able to drift off to sleep. I remember feeling bad for Tina, because we’d missed any chance to close the rift between her and my mother before she left. Now, I’m sure Tina didn’t care a bit, but at the time, I thought it would bother her.
Our newly-rejoined relationship had seemed spotty before Mom’s death, but an intense new period of devotion and love bombing ensued after.
Tina stayed by my side or at the house for several weeks immediately following Mom’s death and her mom came to stay for frequent overnight visits. That was my new family, for a time.
Tina and her mother were full of opinions and advice on handling my mother’s estate, particularly the house. For a while, they had designs to move in. When it became apparent that wasn’t going to be possible, because I was adamant on splitting the value of the house with my two brothers, Maura expressed interest in buying it.
Both Maura and Tina began pressing me on the house after a while and I began to feel that they were trying to manipulate me into decisions I wasn’t comfortable with.
There was a lot to work out and at first, I included Tina in all of the decision-making processes. She was often not rational about it, but I did my best to consider her point of view and tried to accommodate her when practical.
Mom’s house was becoming Tina’s regular home and we moved her car up from Farmington so she could get around when I was at work. We moved her ball python, Lenny, and his terrarium into the house as well, so we could more easily take care of him (or her, it seems to have turned out).
Tina became the lady of the house. It was a role she seemed to enjoy for a brief while, but eventually, it began to chafe her. That got worse when I eventually had to disabuse her of some fantasies she had about big personal profits from the sale of Mom’s house. That certainly caused dire narcissistic injury and led to a wayward shift in Tina’s behavior.
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