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Growing Roots

I've been stuck. I haven’t wanted to write over the past few weeks. And this has left me surprised–unnerved even, since writing is a big part of my life.

It’s an emotional outlet. Writing helps me process and work through my feelings, responses, and reactions to life. Sometimes I share what comes out publicly and other times I keep it to myself. But lately, it’s just been me and a blank page.

And I can feel so much bubbling up inside of me that wants to come out. But I can’t find the words. Or maybe I’m too scared of what words might come out.

As I write this, I’m days away from the one year anniversary of my mom’s heart surgery. Complications during surgery lead to nearly three weeks of sedation on a ventilator. She passed away on June 7, 2022.

I’ve been reliving so much of those weeks in my head lately.

After sitting in the waiting area of the heart hospital for hours, the surgeon came and said things went well but took longer than expected because he found an additional blockage once she was on the operating table. He was able to make all of the repairs and my mom was now in recovery. I would be able to see her once she began to come out of anesthesia a bit.

I thought we were out of the woods.

But as I sat in the waiting room waiting for the ok to see her, I heard a code blue announced overhead. By this time in the evening, there were only three of us remaining in the waiting room–two sisters waiting on their father and me. We all looked at one another with fear. Who was the alarm for?

I saw the chaplain wander in and out of the waiting room several times clearly looking for someone until finally a surgeon also appeared. They made eye contact with one another, then rushed to my side. Together, they told me my mom had to be taken back into surgery. Her heart had stopped twice by this point and they wanted to open her back up and see what was happening.

It felt like a movie. It felt surreal. It was almost an out of body experience. I was scared. In shock. And crying. I had just lost my dad 14 months prior and the thought of losing my mom was inconceivable.

This second surgery was successful and I was able to see her for just a a few short minutes nearly 18 hours after we arrived at the hospital that morning. She was sedated and on a ventilator, but she was alive.

Three days later, she improved enough to be off of the ventilator, only using a cannula or mask for oxygen, and she was conscious. She was incredibly weak, but could nod and squeeze my hand. I got to feed her soup.

But I left the hospital on a Sunday evening, five days after her surgery, knowing she was struggling to keep up her oxygen levels. If she didn’t show more signs of improvement they would need to sedate her and place her back on the ventilator. And when my phone rang very early the following morning, I knew.

I asked the doctor to wait to proceed until I arrived so I could talk to her one more time. He agreed. I stood next to her holding her hand. The pulmonologist asked if we knew what should happen if this didn’t work.

I’ll never forget my mom’s eyes as we looked at one another and nodded knowing this was it. Mom didn’t want to live on life support. She had in place a do not resuscitate (DNR) outlining no artificial nutrition or hydration. If this didn’t work, if she didn’t improve, we would honor her wishes.

I leaned in close, kissed her on the cheek, told her I loved her–that she was going to pull through. Then I stepped outside of the room for them to put her back under sedation and on the ventilator. I never spoke to her again.

The next few weeks were brutal. I visited the hospital daily to be physically near my mom and to advocate for her care. Some days she showed very minor signs of improvement, only to decline the following day. After two grueling weeks, she was taken off of life support and she died less than an hour later.

The days, weeks, months, and now a year since then feel like a blur. I know I have kept myself busy at times as a distraction from the overwhelming grief. I also know I have channeled both my mom and dad for strength and joy at times, too.

There is no one way to process grief. We all have our own journey that ultimately–and hopefully–leads to healing. I know the grief will never be gone, but it will and already has changed in some ways.

When my dad died, dear friends graciously bought two trees for my yard in his honor. When they were planted, we sprinkled some of his ashes in the soil. It was so fitting for my nature-loving dad to be planted in the earth at my home that’s become such a sanctuary for me after divorce and since rebuilding my life. And now my mom’s ashes are sprinkled around those trees as well.

As I’ve watched the trees gain leaves and color this spring, I’ve thought about rebirth. Starting over. The opportunity for new life and new beginnings.

I’m still learning how to do life without my parents. I feel untethered in a way. I don’t have that anchor or the grounding roots of my parents and childhood home any longer.

But much like their trees in my yard, growing deep roots surrounded by my parents' remains, I know my parents are still with me. Their love is still surrounding me as I continue to build a life of joy, love, and peace for my children and me.

And the trees’ roots and my roots will continue to grow. Expand. Provide stability. We will become more anchored and tethered to the ground where we are planted. All the while surrounded by my parent’s love.

Journey well, my friends.


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