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I thought I understood grief. After all, I’ve experienced the loss of several relatives, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles. I thought I understood grief after the loss of my cat, Hamlet, who was like a child to me. I thought I knew what to expect and how to handle it.

But when my Mom died on January 30th, 2018, a mere two weeks after a cancer diagnosis, I found I did NOT understand grief. Not in the slightest. Losing a parent is far and away more painful than anything I’ve ever experienced. There is a never-ending pain, even on the days when I’m happy and smiling, a pain that aches no matter my mood. It’s knowing that I won’t hear her voice again or see her or have her comment on my cat pictures.

It’s knowing that I can’t tag her in something silly on Facebook. Or that when the phone rings, it’s just Dad, who’s never liked talking on the phone. It’s being told how like my mom I am and having that hurt. It’s seeing a picture of her or something she liked and breaking into tears.

Losing my mom is hands down the worst loss I’ve experienced in my life. I find that I worry more about Dad. He’s older, how long will he last without mom? I find that I worry about everything more. And I find it’s harder to be who I was before we lost mom.

The hardest thing to know is that mom would’ve beat the cancer. I struggle with that daily. That had she not gotten two different respiratory infections, she’d have pulled ahead in the fight. She’d still be here. But her immune system was wiped out and she got RSV. That turned into pneumonia. And she wasn’t strong enough to fight. She didn’t have the strength to keep going. Her kidneys failed. Her blood pressure couldn’t stabilize without medication. I used to work in healthcare and the clinical side of me gets it. The clinical side of me knows that it was the right decision to discontinue life support.

But the daughter side wonders: where the doctors right to put a breathing tube in? Is going on the ventilator what made the difference? Should they have kept increasing her oxygen on the nasal cannula? Could they have tried a non-rebreather? A mask? Were there other options besides intubation? The clinical side of me sees the signs that intubation was the right move. But the daughter asks: even though she was maxing out her oxygen needs on the nasal cannula, should we have waited to intubate?

I know the hospital did everything they could have and more. They threw antibiotics and antivirals at her. They kept her comfortable. They took good care of her and us. They answered our questions and didn’t sugar-coat anything. That last night, when Dad and I stayed in the hospital with Mom, the team kept us informed. Even that morning, less then twelve hours before she would quietly slip away, they said they weren’t giving up. But they also said this could end her life. I realize now how lucky I was to be there that last night.

That morning, my Dad called a meeting with me and my sister. We talked about Mom, how she was doing, and what the doctors had said. I wanted to say no, give her more time. But I also understood that he was honoring her wishes not to be a vegetable. She wasn’t going to get better. And if she did, she wouldn’t be Mom. She wasn’t going to come home from this. She was full of pneumonia. She had RSV. Her kidneys were failing. She had other problems going on. We had to make that call, to take her off life support. To let her go.

I am grateful that I got to hold her hand while she passed. She cried a silent tear right before she left this earth. Holding her hand, telling her how much I loved her, that’s special to me. That was a privilege no one should take for granted. The hospital was good about letting her stay in her room until we were ready to release the body. I got to sit and talk to her a few more times and I’m glad for that.

Deep down inside, I know we did the right thing. I know Mom wouldn’t have wanted to keep going. It took her twenty minutes to slip away, making me think she was ready. She was done fighting and she knew she couldn’t win. But two weeks isn’t fair. She had a chance to be a cancer survivor but she got two secondary infections and that was what got her in the end. Cancer makes me so angry. This isn’t the first time it’s taken a loved one from me. But I never dreamed Mom’s fight would be so short.

All I can do now is cherish the memories of an awesome woman that I was lucky enough to call Mom. I will remember sitting there that Friday, before they intubated her, talking about the cooking show. How excited she was to be allowed ice chips. How she went ‘whoo hoo!’ when she swallowed ice without aspirating. I know she couldn’t have anything else, because she was aspirating. I know she was coughing up blood. But I will treasure those last moments with her. When she shooed me home four times, because “I’m going to be fine!” When I asked if she wanted me to go when they were putting the tube in and she maintained that she’d be fine. I think in her mind this was a small hurdle, like a cold, and she’d be fine in a few days. But they reduced Mom to two days and that’s what she got. I’m grateful all around, but I wish she’d have made it. I wish there was a way to communicate with her. I don’t believe in heaven or hell or god or any of that. But part of me wants there to be an afterlife. I want there to be someplace where she’s happy and well and watching over us. I know it’s unlikely, but I’ve never wanted it to be true so much in my life. Because if there was an afterlife, maybe there’d be a way for one more talk, one more meal, one more holiday, one more everything.

Mom, I miss you. Things are a big ball of suck right now without you. And I know how death works. But it doesn’t stop me wishing I could reverse it and bring you back and make you well again. I needed more time with you. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.