Do you ever find yourself so full of thoughts, so full of questions? Grief for me has become this place of unknowing. I always knew I would lose my mother if her life didn’t change, yet I never knew how I would lose her or the way it would feel to watch her die. I spent a lot of time thinking I had prepared myself for that day, in fact in the years leading up to her death I felt like I had already walked through my grief. I had already lost her in so many ways before. I had surrendered to her addiction and let go of hope, or at least I had done my best to convince myself of that.
The devastating reality of addiction was so familiar to me. And its darkest realities were no stranger to my mother either. I had realized that maybe my mother was someone who would never feel that bottom, you know the one everyone talks about, where an addict turns their life around. The truth is there is always something a little deeper or a little darker. The bottom is not a defined end to suffering or a place where darkness automatically ends. Its personal and only an addict can know how far they are willing to push themselves passed that place.
Suicide is certainly not something I thought would become such a big part of my world. She had been through so much in the last years of her life. Michael had died of a heroin overdose, both my grandparents had passed, and she had still seemed to be nowhere near her bottom. Our interactions had become very defensive, on both sides. She had stopped reaching out to me in many ways. One week before she passed, I received a phone call from her, she was in the ER. Her whispering, paranoid voice, told me how no one there believed her that there were “worms” in her skin. She was so fearful and serious, demanding my help to convince the ER doctor of the handfuls of worms she had dug out of her skin to show him. I made the accusation of her using meth, there was silence and then nothing.
The following week I started a new job. I had finished my degree nearly a year earlier, I was finally taking on a role as a social worker. I was still with the hospital, I was just finally headed towards what I truly wanted to be doing. On Wednesday of that week, there is was, her name on my assignment sheet of patients. My new co workers had no idea this was my mother, and no idea of what my past had been. The words read, intentional overdose, suicide attempt. My mother was an addict, I was prepared for the words overdose, I had seen those words before. I had seen the words overdosed coma, but never intentional, never suicide.
It took me nearly an hour to work myself up enough to walk into that ICU. She was intubated, machines and lines going in every direction. A nurse’s voice on the phone with poison control as I walked in. She had taken all her medications, including all of her blood pressure pills. She tested positive for meth, she had walked herself into the ER saying she tried to kill herself. She even told them what she had taken. In my mind I was thinking was this her bottom, her cry for help? Did she really want to die? Or did she just want us all to be reminded of our fear of losing her. I had so many questions, this is not what I had prepared myself for. Life never is what you are prepared for and nothing can remind you of that more than death.
I had to have answers, and she couldn’t give them to me at that moment. I contacted her live in boyfriend, he had caught her smoking meth in their apartment, he had reached his bottom with her and her addiction. It had escalated to a place none of us ever saw coming. He had told her he was going to leave her. She went in the bathroom took all of her pills and came out with a note for him. He drove her to the hospital that day, and dropped her off. I know that feeling he must have had, the anger and disgust. He assumed that she would be fine, and he would pick her up after she was treated. He assumed he’d face this issue of her new addiction and him wanting to leave when she got home. Her decision ultimately decided for him.
I spent that day sitting next to her. She had become someone I couldn’t recognize. In spite of her addiction, my mother had always been clean and some what vain. She had always made her best attempt at appearing put together. Her choices and her fate left her laying in a hospital bed, disheveled, dirty, and covered in scabs from where she had dug at her skin. I began to look at her and turn back her covers to see what had become of her body, meth had not been good to my mother. After years of pills, never had they done to her what a couple months of meth had. Don’t get me wrong, her addiction, regardless of what she took stole her life from her. The huge, deep marks were worse on her legs, and inner thighs, where she had dug down into her flesh. All I could think of was, how much they must have bled, how painful it must have been, and how real those worms must have seemed for her to do this to herself. I had a whole new feeling and hate for her addiction.
I went home that night, while machines were breathing for my mother. There was no resting for me, my mind was on so many things. More than anything my mind was on her, and all the things she’d been through to make her want to take her own life. I felt like for me to ask why, seemed unrealistic. She had found her bottom, she just didn’t do what we all expected when she got there. I ended that day needing so many things before she could leave. I truly believe my faith carried me through the next two days and gave me what I needed to be able to let her go.
The next morning they removed the tube from her throat, she was awake. Alive and able to talk a little. Breathing with a bi-pap machine, but aware. It was an overwhelming feeling of a familiar situation and a fear of what would come next. If she lived, life could not go back to the way things were. Everything would need to change. I was done with her addiction hurting us. Together with friends and family we sat with her throughout that day. I held her hand, put her favorite lotion on her arms. She smelled like her and started to feel more like my mother to me. As my tears fell she apologized to me, she said she loved me. We held onto each other a lot that day. I felt forgiveness and understanding within me.
Late that evening a chest x-ray showed her right lung had collapsed. She would need to be intubated again. I sat next to her and through my tears asked her what she wanted us to do. I told her if we didn’t put the tube back in to breath for her she would die. She very clearly and without hesitation told me she was ready to go. She told me to let her die. There was my answer, this was not a cry for help or attention, this was what her bottom meant to her. She was tired of the struggle and darkness. I will always wish that I could have helped her find a way out, help her to choose life, but how she lived her life and how she ended it was her choice not mine.
My best friend and I stayed that night in ICU with her, laying on a cot watching her. Watching her monitors with unbearable fear of the inevitable. It was like each moment that passed was a milestone, each moment became the one where she didn’t die. I was just waiting for the one moment that would become her last. She made it to the next morning. I had some time with her alone, I talked to her, told her it was ok. I told her I understood, that she deserved the peace she couldn’t give herself here. The feeling of her death started to feel closer and closer to me. She was still slowly breathing, her warmth was leaving her, her blood had started to pool in the underneath of her body. These were real, heartbreaking, things happening to a body as it shuts down, things I’d never seen. A couple of my friends came in the room, just as the chaplain did too. We held hands around my mother and began to pray. As his words lingered, asking for peace, my mother took one deep easy breath and she was gone. She just stopped. Her war with herself was over, she was free of the control of her addiction. She had ended the life of her demons.
Here I was once again left to feel so much more than I wanted to. Left without the mother I loved. I never wondered if she loved me, I knew she did. I will always hurt inside because she was not willing to love herself. Losing her and her addiction have taught me so much about who I am and who I want to be. I’ve tried to learn to be accepting of her struggles rather than angry. I love my mother more than I can explain, and I miss her because I knew her. The real her underneath the ugly face of addiction. Addiction is something I will never lend the same acceptance to, it steals our loved ones and makes them stop loving themselves. Makes us feel like our love is not enough to save them. Addiction is strong, addiction is a bully, it controls amazing beautiful people in their times of weakness. Addiction took my mother, but addiction did not destroy the parts of her I carry with me.