Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Day That Changed My Life Forever

Dec 28th, 1995. Nineteen years ago today, but it still feels like yesterday. It started out just like any other Thursday morning during school break. Mom and Dad went to work while I rode with my brother's caretaker, Regina, to take him to his Physical Therapy appointment in Eunice, LA. I was twleve years old and school was out for Christmas/New Years break.

We had just gotten home. Gina was in the laundry room, busy putting away laundry and ironing dad’s work shirts. I was in the computer room – the same chair Dad would later spend his last moments in – playing on the internet. I think it was AOL 3.0 back then. It was dial-up, and with my copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator, I was surfing the AOL message boards learning about Virtual Airlines.

There was a knock on the door that sent our miniature dachshund, Sparky, barking. I immediately went to see who it was, finding my dad standing there behind the glass door. I still don’t know why he knocked – he had always done it to agitate the dog, but I’ll never forget the look.

He didn’t have to say a word. His eyes said it all. Sadness. Despair. Heartache. Fear. I was only twelve years old, but somehow I knew instantly. I didn’t even give him a chance to explain before I screamed, “No!” and took off in a sprint down the hall before falling to my knees in their bedroom crying.

My dad finally caught up with me, picking me up. Mom was sick. She had been found at work. It wasn’t good, but there was hope. We had to get back to the hospital right away. I found my favorite jacket – the Starter Jacket Mom had bought me a few days prior, the one all the cool kids at school were wearing – and we made the six mile drive to the hospital. There wasn’t much to say. Dad tried to explain what he knew, but even he was lost. We prayed. We held out hope.

The next few hours were a dizzying blur. I couldn’t see Mom. She was in ICU. The doctors were still trying to figure out what to do. They parked me in the hospital cafeteria as Mom’s friends and coworkers stayed with me while Dad stayed near Mom and talked to the doctors. I waited. I prayed some more.

When my Dad finally returned, he gave me the news. They were pretty sure it was an aneurysm. She had to be taken to the hospital in Alexandria. That’s where the neurosurgeon was. There was still hope, but if she recovered, it would be a long road. And there was a chance she might not ever be the same. I steadied my resolve. I would help Mom get better – no matter what.

I remember following the ambulance to Alexandria with Dad in his truck. My dad held my hand the whole way there. We both cried. He hoped. We prayed. I knew my mom was in the back of that ambulance as we raced to get help. Rapides had the best doctors. She was going to be ok. She had to.
When we got to the hospital, they shoved us into the waiting room while the doctors reviewed the case. It seemed like hours. Maybe it was. Time didn’t matter anymore. The doctor finally returned. He was so sorry, but there was nothing he could do. Her body was alive, but she just wasn’t with us anymore.

We all fell to our knees. Everyone. My dad. My sister. Me. The hope was gone. The prayers had gone unanswered – at least for us. Three days after Christmas, Mom was gone forever.

Dad left for a while. I don’t know where he went, but he came back later to talk to me. He had been talking to the doctors and wanted to talk to me about what’s next. Mom was gone. There was no brain activity at all, but her body – her organs – were still alive. She could still save lives. He asked me what I thought. He was so scared.

At first, the thoughts are purely selfish. What if there’s a chance she could live? What if the doctors are wrong? Why should someone else get a chance? But that’s not what Mom would’ve wanted. She was the most generous person my dad had ever known. She would’ve wanted someone else to live on. I agreed. So they did it.

Mom officially died on December 29th, 1995, but on that evening, she was gone forever. And in an instant, our lives changed forever. Worrying about the latest Playstation game had gone from the most pressing of issues to a problem I so desperately longed to have again.

We’re guaranteed nothing on this Earth, yet we tend to take so much for granted. On November 8th. 2013, I had no idea I would be writing this before going to sit at the grave of both Mom and Dad alone. What once was a yearly tradition of my dad and I visiting Mom's grave became me going to visit their graves by myself. He died just as unexpectedly and suddenly as she did nearly eighteen years later.

Love the people close to you. Cherish them. Respect them. Because it only takes an instant for them to be gone forever.

It’s been nineteen years now since Mom left this earth. And I’ve lived more of my life without her than with her. I wish I had been given the opportunity to know her as an adult. My only wish is that somehow she’s been able to see it all, and that I would’ve made her proud. She certainly cast a big shadow.

RIP Mom. August 7, 1951 – December 28, 1995

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