Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Essay Contest--My Entry

For the 2nd year in a row I'm entering an essay for Glamour magazine's Real Life Essay Contest.

My story is about the 7 weeks in between my parents' deaths.

Last year I entered the contest and considered sharing my essay on my blog but decided not to because at the time I really wanted that $5,000 and the chance to be in a magazine!  I was afraid if I showed people what I wrote that they would try to enter to beat me! I love writing and I'd love for someone to take notice and possibly offer me a job writing....dream!!  (I'm actually planning on sharing more of my writings, especially my poems on here soon.)

But this year I kind of figure I won't win, again, so here it goes, my essay that I entered.

This is the picture I talk about in the beginning if you want a visual:

There’s a picture of me and my daughter that my husband took of us together on October 16th, 2010.  We went to a park together to sit and watch the sailboats pass by.  My daughter is 11 months old at the time and she has a huge smile and the cutest chubby cheeks.  In that picture we don’t have a care in the world.  On October 16th at that moment life was normal.

At 8pm that night one phone call changed my life forever.  My mom called me which wasn’t unusual she called me every single day.  But it was later than she normally called so I thought it was strange.  Her voice was calm as she explained that dad had come home from work and fell in the kitchen.  Since she couldn’t help him to stand up she ran to the neighbor’s house and the neighbor decided to call 911.  The ambulance was there when she called but she was scared to ride in it so she wanted me to come and drive her to the hospital to see dad.

I rushed out of our apartment with pajamas on and freshly showered wet hair.  I had just put the baby to bed and was planning on going to sleep soon too.  No matter how fast I drove or which route I took it was always 20 minutes to my parents’ house.  I pulled in the driveway and the neighbor came running to me.

“I think he had a seizure or a stroke.  Your poor mom is a mess.  She can’t even understand what’s happening.”

I told her mom only said he fell.  I thought maybe he broke his leg or hurt his back again.

“No honey, he wouldn’t respond.  He was out of it.  I think he may have drunk too much.  Do you think he’s been drinking again?”

Mom came out of the house and got into the car.  Never once did she mention that he was unconscious when the ambulance took him.  I’m not sure if it was denial or that she really didn’t understand.  My mom has schizophrenia and is bipolar.  With years and years of taking medications for her illness she doesn’t understand or comprehend like everyone else.  This was just too much to handle.  It was like her emotions had shut off.

In the emergency room dad was having EKGs and CT scans and countless other tests.  I went over his health history with the nurses who asked if he was able to take care of himself or speak prior to arriving.  I explained that he was a normal functioning person who woke up every morning, worked, drove, took care of pets, he was normal.  They looked at me like I was lying.  I just saw him last weekend when he came over with my mom to visit.  He was normal then.  Nothing was wrong.

I drove mom home since there was no point in staying.  I cried on my way home.  She didn’t understand what was going on.  I couldn’t leave her to live alone in that house for too long.  My mom wouldn’t be able to handle caring for herself, the dogs, the pig, and the cats without someone else there to help.  She never learned how to drive, how would she do anything without me there? 

The next morning mom called to say that dad had a room in ICU.  She wanted to take him some shampoo, deodorant, shoes and clothes for when he was ready to go home.  I stopped on the way to pick her up and bought us each an iced green tea and a cinnamon crunch bagel.  We sat in the dining room together and ate.  We talked about going to my dad’s job to let them know he would need the week off for medical leave.  Maybe even longer depending on his diagnosis.  I told mom it would be fine because I knew he never used any sick days and he kept saving them up, he had weeks of pay coming to him so bills could still be paid.  No one had to worry about a thing. 

When it was time to go to the hospital I yelled at mom for wearing her shirt inside out without even noticing.  She got mad and refused to turn it right side out.  She carried out a plastic shopping bag with my dad’s things and we left.  Her shirt was dark blue.

The ICU ended up being on the far side of the hospital from where I parked.  We had to walk and mom complained that her back hurt so I carried the bag for dad.  She said she hoped that dad was coming home soon or she’d need someone to drive her to the grocery store and that she’d have to figure out the bus routes so I wouldn’t have to drive up everyday to visit. 

At the ICU the nurse explained that dad was going thru alcohol withdrawls since he was a severe alcoholic from what they could tell.  Mom said over and over again that he didn’t drink.  He just didn’t.  He used to but he wasn’t now.  I knew the truth.  He was drinking.  He would hide it in a red plastic cup.  The bottle of vodka was in his truck under the driver’s seat just like it was in 2001 when he drank too much and hit a semi-truck.  Mom didn’t know, she wouldn’t have, she didn’t notice things like that. 

The nurses asked that mom signed a document taking over control of dad’s medical decisions.  She refused and I had to sign it instead.  She didn’t want the responsibility.  Mom thought that I’d be a better person to decide on what he should and shouldn’t have done.

Dad was sedated that day.  He didn’t know we were there.  They had him on a ventilator but said there were no signs of a stroke or seizure.  It would be days before they could allow the sedation to be lowered because he was having DTs from the withdrawals from the alcohol.  He couldn’t walk and he couldn’t eat.  His body was weak they told us, like he was malnourished.  Mom didn’t notice because she just never noticed things like that.

On the way home mom kept saying that dad didn’t drink.  I kept telling her he did.  He was always drunk.  He smelled of vodka when he’d come over to visit but I’d ignore it.  I didn’t want to embarrass him or make a scene. When we got to the house I unlocked his 4-runner, reached under the seat and showed her the half empty bottle of vodka.  She was mad that he had done this to her.  How could he have done this all to her?  I then left and told her I’d be back tomorrow so we could go visit again.

On the way home I cried again.  What would we do now?

Two hours later I got a phone call from my mom’s cell.  A man’s voice starts to talk and I look at the caller ID again to see “mom’s cell”.  He explains that he’s an emergency medical technician.  He asks if I am Christina and if my mother is Alicia.  I tell him yes to both.  He then says the sentence that haunts me still “I’m sorry but your mother has passed away”.  I remember at that moment I was looking out the sliding glass door at the pond behind our apartment, the pond my dad used to joke around and call “Coconut Bay”.  My daughter was next to me playing in her pack and play smiling.  I froze.  He told me they couldn’t touch her or move her until I arrived on the scene.  He wanted to confirm that I lived in the area since that was what the neighbor told him.  I told him I was 20 minutes away but my husband had my car and I’d be there as soon as possible.

I called my husband and screamed to him “my mom is dead”.  Nothing more than that. He was in the middle of a round of golf and he dropped everything to race home to get me my car.

I drove to my parents’ house and it took me 20 minutes.  During my drive a police officer called me from my mom’s cell and my heart dropped.  I hoped to hear her voice but didn’t.  They wanted to know if I was on my way because the dogs were running lose in the street and no one could catch them.  My mom’s dog was protecting my mom, not allowing anyone near her.  That poor dog watched her die.  He was the one with her when it happened.

I refused to see her.  When I arrived she was in the front yard covered in a sheet.  I stayed in the neighbor’s house while my aunt and husband went to see her and when the coroner loaded her into the van.  I requested her jewelry and they handed it to me in an envelope.  It’s still in that same envelope now. 

The autopsy showed no signs of foul play, just some “fuzzy” kidneys and mild heart disease.  We would have to wait nearly 3 months for toxicology results.  The police searched the house and counted all her medications.  Nothing extra was taken and all pills were accounted for.

The next week dad remained sedated in ICU.  That Sunday, one week from the date mom died, he woke up while my husband and I were visiting.

“Where is she?” he asked looking around the room.  I’m sure he assumed she was in a mental hospital again or at home mad at him.

“She died last week,” I answered.  I explained that it looked like she had ran out the front door when she realized something was happening to her and tried to go to the neighbor’s house.  She must have passed out in the front yard.

“That’s how it happens.  People are here one day and gone the next,” he said very simply while a single tear rolled down his cheek  His wife of 31 years who he endured countless mental hospital admissions, mental breakdowns and one stint in jail  had died while he laid in a hospital.  He didn’t even know he had been there a week. 

The next 6 weeks were a roller coaster ride that I wanted off of.  My dad went from ICU to progressive ICU then back to ICU then back to progressive ICU.  Meanwhile I was juggling a full time job, my daughter, my husband, my life, my parents’ house, bills, pets, mess and signing releases at the hospital for the use of the ventilator and feeding tubes.  I was dealing with people telling me they knew exactly how I felt (they didn’t) asking me if I needed help (I refused), telling me everything would be okay (I doubted it) or avoiding me completely (who knows what to say to the girl with the dead mother and sick father?).

I spent 2 weeks cleaning out my parents’ house of all my mother’s belongings.  It took 20 trash bags to get rid of all her clothes.  She was a hoarder.  No one cleaned.  There were roaches and poop and pee all over.  I found a home for the pot bellied pig, I called animal services on two dogs and two cats.  I found a home for another dog.  I sat in the house and cried a lot.  This was the house I grew up in and no one would live it in again.  This house needed to be condemned.  Once the pets had homes I removed some pictures, locked the door and never went back.

On his sixth week in the hospital dad’s feeding tube to his stomach got infected and had to be removed.  He was unable to swallow because of damage to his esophagus from drinking.  He had sores on his feet from lying in bed for so long, he hadn’t walked in 6 weeks and he had lost a lot of weight.  This wasn’t my dad anymore.  This was not the man that joked all the time and called our pond “Coconut Bay” or the man that would call me panicked that he couldn’t pay the mortgage and that he couldn’t tell mom. 

This was the end and the nurses told me I needed to come in and see him.  My husband and I drove our daughter to daycare that morning and went to be with him.  They had him sedated and behind us a group of nursing students came by and went over dad’s history.

“58 year old, white male, severe alcoholic, diabetic, blah, blah blah.  His daughter has control over all medical decisions.  Since her mother died on day one of admission we haven’t pressured her to make too many decisions at this time.  It just isn’t fair to for all of this to happen to someone so young.”  I was wearing a plastic gown, mask and gloves when they were behind me.  Dad had MRSA so that’s what we wore to visit him.  I turned to the group with tears in my eye.  This was my dad and I am a real person here dealing with this all.

A quite hush went over the group of students and one ran away crying.  I was that girl.  I was the girl that made all the ICU nurses and students stop and stare.  I was the one with the sick dad and the dead mom.  I was the one that would answer their phones and explain my unbelievable story of how my mom died while my dad was in the hospital.  No one believed my story but here I was living it everyday.

Dad snapped out of it on Thursday of that week, enough so that they wanted to try a feeding tube again.  I went in to sign the release and he was the most coherent he had been in the last 6 ½ weeks.  He wanted to know how my work was, how my husband was, how his only grandchild was.  I showed him a picture on my cell phone of her and he said “she looks just like me”.  Yes, she does, like a red headed female version of my dad.  He wanted to know if knew what mom died from, we didn’t.  He wanted to know where each pet had gone and if he had money in his bank account and if I had his debit card with the PIN so I could withdrawal money out to pay for gas.  He told me to take all his money out and to stop paying his bills.  I told him I loved him and left when they wheeled him to the operating room to re-do his feeding tube.  He told me the feeding tube wouldn’t help.  I told him to shut up.

There were nights during these weeks that I would pray to God, not to help my dad, but to let him die.  He was a strong man, a proud man.  He would not want to be lying in bed in a hospital weak and helpless.  He wouldn’t have wanted it at all.  I had to realize that he wouldn’t have wanted any of it at all.

The stress for me was unbearable.  In the time my dad was in the hospital my daughter was sick twice and couldn’t go to daycare.  My husband was laid off from work the week before Thanksgiving.  We had our daughter’s first birthday party with family and friends but not her grandparents.  I ran my first half marathon that I had been training for.  Our daughter had her first Halloween and we ate Thanksgiving dinner with a co-worker and her family instead of the usual meal with my parents.  The stress was unbearable but life goes on.  I had to keep our life going on.  The doctor prescribed me Xanax but I never took them.  The bottle stayed in my purse but I couldn’t make myself take one because I didn’t want to be like mom, always taking medications.  I never took a pill.

So there I lay in bed crying praying for God to stop it all.  Dad wasn’t ever coming home.  I didn’t want him to and I knew he was too weak.  I just wanted him to let go and die.

Two days later a nurse called and asked if they could make him DNR (do not resituate).  He was weak and his feeding tube didn’t end up working.  It didn’t help.  I told her yes.  He was right and now I was going to do what he would have wanted.

An hour later she called again to tell me to come and say good-bye.  I drove to the hospital alone since my husband had to watch our baby since it was Saturday.  We had no one to watch her.  Dad had a machine that was pushing air in and out of his mouth.  I refused to wear the plastic gown, gloves and mask like I did during every other visit. I told him to go and be with mom.  I didn’t need him here like this, suffering, I told him to just let go and be with her.  She always needed him more than I did.  He needed to take care of her.  I laid in the bed with him and hit him on the chest.  I screamed for him to just go because I knew he wanted to go!  I knew he didn’t want to live without mom. I waited a while and then left.  I knew what was going on.  He refused to die in front of me.  He wouldn’t have wanted me to see his final breath.

About 30 minutes after I arrived home I got a phone call from the doctor saying they did everything they could do.  He died December 4th; 7 weeks after it all began.

I had put off a funeral for my mom for the 7 weeks.  We were all waiting for dad.  No one knew that we’d actually be having a joint funeral service for the two of them.  Over 50 people attended, some who I had never met.  The service was short, how they would have wanted it.  I created a slideshow of memories of the both of them and we all cried. All of us were there to say good-bye to a couple that never had life easy.  Mom struggled in and out of mental hospitals my whole life.  Dad struggled with alcohol and finances.  Their house was in foreclosure, they had no money, no savings, they had given up and now they were gone.

People ask me how I dealt with it all.  My mom’s death was a shock, it was sudden and with dad in the hospital I never had time to process it.  When dad died it was a relief to know that mom wasn’t left behind.  She wouldn’t have been able to live without him for those 7 weeks or ever. I had to be honest, I spent most of my life taking care of them and now they were gone, just like that.  One day they were here and the next they were gone, just like dad had said.

There are other times were I’m mad.  I’m angry.  I cry. They only got 11 months with their precious granddaughter and they loved her so much.  She’ll never remember them.  She won’t remember them playing with her or her laughing at them when they talked to her.  She won’t remember my mom bringing over tons of new clothes for her or dad taking hundreds of pictures of her.  It makes me mad that they’re gone.  It makes me mad that my daughter has no grandparents.

A wave of peace sometimes comes over me in moments where I get mad about it all.  I have to keep remembering that they’re together.  All the stress and drama of those 7 weeks is gone.  They were together 31 years and now they’d be together forever.

On December 30th we received the toxicology results that mom died of sepsis from a chronic kidney and bladder infection. 

I have my parents’ ashes in our guest bedroom closet in their boxes, unopened and untouched.  I refuse to do anything with them.  Someday I might put myself together enough to decide what to do with them, for now they sit together.  I’m not able to let go.

When I see that picture of me and my daughter from October 16th I remember a time where everything was normal and our new life without the ones we loved.  


  1. Oh my gosh. Thank you for sharing your story. I didn't know you then, but all of my other bloggy friends were praying for you. I started checking up on you every once in a while so see how you were holding up but I don't think I friended you until you were pregnant with your second. I didn't want to be the person who "jumped on the band wagon so to speak" but I can tell you though that when my son was born with Down syndrome and in the NICU with a possible heart condition I was floored by the many, many posts I received from anons. It was very touching. Life is so hard sometimes. I don't know why things happen to some people.

  2. You are truly a gifted writer!

  3. Very well written. I won't pretend to understand what you've been through, but do I admire the strong person and mother that you are.