My family sat in a conference room near the waiting room of the hospital intensive care unit, so the doctor could inform us that my mother would die. The lights were bright white, and so were the walls. The chairs had a faded blue fabric, each one the same. There were probably pictures on the wall, maybe a beautiful scene of flowers and a pond, something that was meant to be peaceful. I do not remember that though. I remember the sterile bright white and the doctor sitting in front of me. She wore a turquoise track jacket and tennis shoes with her scrubs. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. There were no wispy pieces sticking out. Every bit of her brown hair that was not pulled through that ponytail was stuck straight to her head. She was physically fit, pretty, and plain.
“I need you to understand that this is what is going to end her life,” she said matter of fact.
She looked directly at me, although the rest of my family was in the room.
“I think there has been some false hope going on,” she said, “I just want to be straight with you. This is end-of-stage liver failure.”
It was my hope she had been referring to. I had hung onto every bit of faith I had. Telling my family: Miracles do happen!
I would not look the doctor in the eye when she spoke about the false hope. I was not able to face her or the reality that she was trying to make me aware of. I looked at the door and waited for the meeting to end, no longer present with whatever else was being said.
I went back to my mother’s ICU room and continued to do what I had been doing the last several days. I held her swollen, yellow-tinted hands. I sang worship songs to her that I had learned at church. And I prayed, not sure if she could hear me, as she had been heavily sedated. I brushed her hair back and kept the brown frizzy pieces out of her face. When fluid started dripping more quickly into a bag that was on my mother’s bedside, I had been convinced it was a good thing since her hands were so swollen. I thought maybe she was getting unwanted fluid out of her body. I asked the nurse, but she said she was not sure what it meant. She was as young as the doctor in the meeting, but less perfect looking. She had a messy bun, smeared makeup, and a fake tan. She would not look me in the eye when I asked about the fluid, but she made a face like she had an idea what it might mean, despite what she was telling me. It was a face that made me think it was something bad.
I went to the bathroom in the hallway outside of the ICU. It was a one-person stall with lights as bright as the ones in my mother’s ICU room. I sat right down on the dirty floor in the corner. I plopped down my bag of snacks, drinks, and books I brought for all the sitting around and waiting we were doing. It was just a few hours after the meeting with the doctor. It was the first time I was alone since. I was beginning to wonder about what the doctor said. The last time my mother was coherent, she looked at me, her eyes big and scared, and she had asked if she was going to die. It was just two days before. The nurse in the room patted my mother on the arm: No sweetie, you aren’t going to die. Like it was some ridiculous thought. Of course, she would not die. But what if she was going to?
I picked up my phone and called one of the most spiritual people I knew, still sitting right there on the bathroom floor under the bright lights. She was an old friend I met at church. For the first time, I voiced the thought of the possibility of my mother’s death. Suddenly, before I knew what hit me, I was crying hard.
“I think she might die.” I said to my friend.
“Don’t even say that,” she told me, like speaking it would make it happen.
Someone jiggled on the door handle to use the bathroom. I wiped my tears and stood up from the bathroom floor. I told my friend I had to go. I went back to my mother’s room. I told her God was with her and she was going to be alright.
The next day, the doctors turned the machine off that was keeping my mother alive.
My grandmother stood at her head across from me, saying “Its okay Suzie” over and over. My sister, Lindsey, put her head up against my mother’s heart. My husband stood at her feet, praying. I held my mother’s hand, begging God for one last time to keep her alive.
“It stopped,” my sister said as she raised her head up from my mother’s chest, not bothering to wipe the tears and snotty mess from her crying.
The doctor, wearing the blue track jacket and perfect ponytail again, came back in as my sister was speaking.
“I was just going to come and say, yeah, she’s gone,” she said very matter of fact.
She turned off a machine that was probably monitoring my mother’s heart. There was no need for it anymore. She walked back out of the room and shut the curtain while we said our last goodbye. It was not a long goodbye. My mother was not there anymore. It was just her still body. I had hung on tightly for days. I could not hang on any longer. She was gone. I walked out of the ICU, passed the bathroom I had sat on the floor in, passed the conference room, under all those stupid bright lights, and I left, accepting what I could not possibly have accepted until it happened.
Today, I hang onto healthy hope. I believe in God. I cling to my faith. But I know there are countless things I cannot understand, and I cannot control.
I know that sometimes for me, hoping for the best is a gift when I need it most, but I am also strong enough to face the challenges life brings and I do not always get to control what they are.
Whatever happens, I do know, without any doubt, that God is with me. That is where my hope forever stays.