Susan’s mom died last week. It came out of nowhere. Jeanne was well, grocery shopping at Giant with Susan’s father. Her energy dragged. She sat on a wooden bench by the pharmacy while Al finished gathering the groceries. It’s been a rough year for her. Bouts of confusion led doctors to suspect seizure activity. She picked up a staph infection, God only knows where. She received an emergency hip replacement. Lots of medical intervention in 2022. None of it related to her death.

Twenty-one years ago, she received a mechanical heart valve. Hardly cutting edge in the early 2000s, but still serious surgery. They performed the operation with a four-inch incision rather than arthroscopically. She lived the rest of her life with a bad ass scar on her sternum.

After paying for his groceries, Al took Jeanne home, unconcerned, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. But once settled onto a couch, she faded fast. She felt like she was suffocating. Al called 911. Jeanne died a few hours later. That heart valve malfunctioned. It stuck wide open.

I walked into my house during the middle of it; Some errands kept me away through dinner. I found Susan sitting up in bed, still deep in the throes of her Covid infection. “Hey, my mom’s in the emergency room.” That wasn’t alarming, she’s been in and out of the hospital all year with her various ailments. But still, Susan sounded stressed. Five minutes later, a text came from Susan’s dad. They’re performing CPR, things look bad. I drove the mile to the hospital. I left in such a hurry, I forgot my phone.

They parked Al outside the operating room right next to a scheduling desk. Hospital personnel hung around getting instructions, exchanging good natured banter, ignoring Al. Every five minutes or so, someone would turn to us and ask if we needed anything, if we wanted a more private place to sit. We stayed put.

A doctor came out of the operating room. “We’ve done three rounds of CPR with epinephrine. We can get her heart beating but with the valve stuck open, it just stops again.” We asked questions. “No, we can’t replace the valve here, we would have to transport her.” More questions. “No, we can’t transport her unless she’s stable.”

“No, there’s really nothing we can do for her.” He went back into the operating room and continued CPR.

“Can you guys come in here?” Same doctor. “I want you to see what we’re doing.” Eight people crowded around the table. Jeanne appeared to have a piece of cloth over her face. A woman wailed away on her, pumping her chest with a violence that looked more likely to kill her than save her life. An artificial respirator made a wocka wock sound like a large plastic pane flopping back and forth.

“Al, you don’t want to be in here, do you? Let’s wait in the hall.” It was past time to quit. The doctor already said so. I wondered why they were torturing Jeanne, torturing Al. Susan waited outside in the cold. I texted her on Al’s phone. I learned that when you’re rushing and using someone else’s phone, it’s impossible to write a message. It’s like that recurring dream I have where I try to place an emergency call on a rotary dial phone. My finger keeps slipping out of the hole midway around the dial.

Time suspended. I comforted Susan on the sidewalk in the dark. People walked past us lost in their own emergencies. I spent five or ten minutes out there, long enough to begin shivering uncontrollably, still, I got back to Al before the medical team gave up.

Susan came into the hospital to comfort her father.  The two of them spent time together in the room with Jeanne. I went home to tell my kids.

Photo by Robert L. on Unsplash

30 thoughts on “Loss

  1. I’m so, so sorry for your loss, Jeff. You did mention to me that Susan had lost her mother, but I had no idea about the horrific experience you all had at the hospital. I feel for you all so much. Please, give my love and condolences to Susan, Al and the rest of your family. Condolences and love to you, too, naturally. However, I know that it’s at times like this that what anybody says can’t bring Jeanne back nor bring you much comfort. Christmas time is such a difficult time of the year to lose a loved one (not that there is ever a good time). Emotions and expectations are already high, and to have something like a death of a dear one happen then changes your trajectory somewhat unexpectedly and suddenly. I wish you well, Jeff, and once again, I am so sorry to hear your news. You have my email address, so feel free to contact me if it would help. I know I have my own stuff going on, but as well as writing about my pain, I’m also a very good listener. Love to you all, my friend X. (P.S. I didn’t ‘like’ your post because it didn’t seem appropriate to do this under these circumstances.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • The scene at the hospital was really weird and my opinion inappropriate, but I suppose they know what they’re doing. I’m sure future christmases will be marred by the proximity of her death to christmas day. I’m still very mindful of my mother’s death anniversary (which by chance was also my mother-in-law’s birthday).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Glad you wrote about it Jeff, in the spirit of trying to process and let go of painful experiences like that, sounds truly bizarre, surreal, horrific as another reader described it. Sending warm thoughts for you and Susan and the kids. Best, Bill


  2. I struggle with empathic feelings. Well I think it’s empathy. I find myself being overwhelmed by my own parallel feelings of loss (and not necessarily joy) when hearing about loss of a loved one. That’s one reason that I hold back and perhaps explains my stilted responses to loss. I am sorry for your loss but glad we can share our condolences.
    Be well and do good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually struggle with a lack of emotions (joyful or sorrowful). I’ve spent years trying to determine the cause. Top candidates are brain injury, antipsychotics I take for Tourette syndrome or undiagnosed autism. Sometimes lacking emotion is a blessing, but often it leaves me feeling cold and/or really stoopid.


  3. Condolences to your family!
    Daughter works in the ICU and she’s told me stories of families that won’t let go. People hooked up to every machine, including an automatic CPR machine. I’m sorry you had to witness it, but from my daughter’s experience, the person is already gone at that point.
    Medical science is wonderful… mostly. Sometimes it can be a curse, IMO. It’s not gentle, and it’s not pretty. Far too often, it prolongs suffering for the patient and the family.
    Thank you for sharing this. People should talk about death. Normalize it. We’re all going to do it someday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I went back and forth about posting this for a week. I finally decided that many readers are true friends and I want to share what’s going on in my life. Still not sure I made the right choice. I agree though, we need to demystify death.


  4. Oh, this is so traumatic. No family should have to watch the violence of CPR. My condolences to you, Susan, and apologies on behalf of the medical community that they brought you in there to see that. If it’s any consolation, she would not have been aware by then. Sigh. Holiday marred. :*(

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen CPR before, It was nowhere near as violent as this. I have no idea why they wanted us in the operating room, when really, they just got through telling us that it was too late to bring her back. It added a horrific element to an already horrifying day. I hope you’re doing well and this post wasn’t triggering.


      • It was so unnecessary that they brought you in! Horrifying indeed. I’ve always been taught that if you’re doing cpr correctly, there will be the odd broken rib. Which makes it all the more awful in older patients.


  5. Jeff, that is one heck of a NY story. Condolences (whatever that means) and most certainly thoughts of compassion for your partner and her Dad. The loss of a parent at any age is huge.

    Though it might seem insensitive, I also want to acknowledge the excellent writing. It is not easy to portray dramatic and powerful events without hyperbole. I appreciate the flat style. It works.

    Liked by 1 person

    • According to Etymonline, the word condolence has been used since 1600 to refer to sympathetic grief or sorrowing with another, and since the 1610s as an expression of sympathy to a person in distress or mourning. This comes from the Late Latin condolens, the present participle of condolere.

      I think the word is popular because no one seems to know what to say when confronted with death. It’s handy to have this word so we don’t have to struggle to put this concept into our own words.

      Regarding the writing: all comments, positive and negative are always welcome. I wish more of the blog comment discussion revolved around the writing rather than the content. Although I acknowledge not all bloggers are that obsessed with the writing. The flat delivery, while intentional, also bothers me a bit because I worry about being disrespectful by telling the story without emotion. Thanks for reading and commenting, Bruce.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do not experience that stylistic feature as disrespectful in the slightest. Quite the reverse, in fact. It doesn’t force the writer into the story and leaves space for the reader to have their own reactions.

        I’m with you on the writing vs content thing. And yes, I think that makes us weird. Well, certainly different in a social media world where it seems like everyone is shouting about the shallowest of emotions.


    • Hi Tania, I apologize for never responding to your comment. I’d never intentionally do that. It’s just when I was rereading all this (I don’t know why) that I realized I missed you. I appreciate your thoughts of peace. As one who doesn’t pray, peace is exactly what I need. Best to you.


  6. So sorry you and your family had to go through this horrific experience and loss. Death is so insidious, it snatches those we love from us without warning. My husband died of a massive stroke in our living room just as we were sitting down to dinner. No one should have to see death happen in front of them. It’s a scar that never fades. Take care of yourself and your family. Love and support one another. It’s the only way make it through. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I browsed your blog. It’s tragic. You seem way too young to be widowed. My step mother died earlier in 2022 and now it feels like death is in the air. I keep waiting to the other (or another) shoe to drop, My wife and I have both been battling some low level depression ever since. Being the depth of winter doesn’t help. Best to you, Jeff


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