My mother had an idea for a book. It was how your world could change in the matter of a minute. She called it: The 60 Second Hurricane.
When she described her idea to me, I knew exactly what she meant. I had experienced a couple of hurricanes already. They are those moments that feel as if someone reached into your life and flipped a switch, like a train switching tracks. The reality you were living changes almost instantly, and often permanently.
I received a text at 5:27 a.m. on Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 from my sister telling me I needed to drive to a hospital in Virginia. I knew my mom had been admitted the day before with pneumonia in both of her lungs. My sister and I had thought some IV antibiotics and respiratory support was all she was going to need to get through this illness. After all, my mom had turned 66 just five days before and she was the picture of vitality.
What was troubling, though, besides the early hour of the text, was that my sister isn’t one to panic. My sister is a nurse. She has worked exclusively in ICUs and ERs. She knows what sick looks like and she knows how to stay calm when the world around her is in chaos. So, when she says it’s time to get in the car, you know things are bad. And you get your ass in the car.
My hurricane didn’t come, however, until I saw her face.
I was on the highway, driving toward the hospital, and I looked down at my phone and saw that I had a missed FaceTime call from her. Curious, I FaceTimed her back. (Admittedly, it was a really stupid decision.) My first thought when I saw my sister’s face on the small screen was, she looks bad.
“You look like shit,” I said. She didn’t snap back at me like she was supposed to, though. She looked away. My sister, who prides herself on being tough in the hardest of situations, couldn’t look me in the eyes.
And that’s when the hurricane struck. I knew right then that I was about to lose my mom.
Less than 24 hours later, after every last possible shred of hope was gone, I was standing at the end of my mother’s hospital bed, holding my sister’s hand as we watched a nurse remove life support. She turned off each of the IV pumps. She and a respiratory therapist removed the endotracheal tube. Within minutes, the impending doom that I had read across my sister’s face became a reality. We watched our mother die.
I spent that day thinking I couldn’t imagine a worse pain. This had to be the most anguish a human being could experience. I felt like I was dying too.
The following afternoon, I got another text. It was from my husband. Our 10 year-old son, Hayden, was just diagnosed with pneumonia. The same disease that just swept in and took my mother away was now squatting in my child's lungs. My imagination was revitalized. I found myself back in the car, again desperately hoping that the worst wouldn’t happen, only this time with the freshly acquired realization that sometimes it does. Honestly, I have no idea how I made it home.
An infectious disease doctor recommended that all of my and my sister’s family take antibiotics to prevent the freight train infection that killed my mother from claiming another one of us. The pain of losing her was somehow tempered by the fear that things can always get worse.
Between us, my sister and I have seven children. Valentine’s Day morning, the day of my mother's funeral service, instead of chocolate, I was handing out little pink shots of Augmentin. My sister and I were desperately trying to keep safe the precious branches that extend from us on the family tree, as we prepared to memorialize the branch that made us.
And, thankfully, that storm passed us by.
I don’t know what my mother’s take on The 60 Second Hurricane would have been. I don’t know what conclusions she would have come to while writing a book she thought she still had plenty of time to write. But, for me, those hurricanes have brought the kind of clarity that is only possible when you have been knocked down. As you struggle to right yourself, you feel the push of all the people who love you, nudging you back into the light even if you’d rather spend more time in the darkness. And you realize that the endless words of comfort from everyone around you swirl together to send one cohesive message: You are loved. We are here for you. Please keep going.
The best way I know to honor that message is to believe it. I am loved. I am supported. And here I am, still really sad, but, still going. I have made it through every major holiday. I have made it through my birthday. I have made it through her birthday. And now, I'll do it again. I'll take another trip around the sun without her, even if, sometimes, I don't want to. I am loved. I am supported. I will keep going.
Thanks, again, for all the pushes.
I like to throw things.