It’s been slightly longer than a week since Aunt Betty’s passing — and to say it’s been a roller-coaster ride would be an understatement.
Aunt Betty was my best friend. She was my parent. She was the rock on which I leaned.
Since her death 10 days ago, I have experienced more emotions than I ever realized I had.
As she breathed her final breaths, reality came crashing down upon me.
Tears filled my eyes. My head felt like it grew to three times it size. The emergency room in which I stood began to wobble. All of the chairs, desks and people within it began to spin.
I posted to Facebook a desperate plea for prayers for my aunt, who just three hours earlier had woken in her own bed confident that she would beat her lung cancer. She had a year left, doctors promised. But my aunt being the eternal optimist and bedrock of my family was convinced she had longer.
I believed her. After all, my aunt was always there and would always be there, right? I could not imagine a universe in which she was not.
My phone began to vibrate as hundreds of positive thoughts, well-wishes and notes of support poured it. My friends and colleagues are just awesome like that, and I could never adequately thank them for their support.
Doctors came in and walked out as I leaned against a wall in St. Vincent’s emergency room as doctors and nurses worked feverishly to save my aunt. My mother tried to rub my shoulders and implored me to sit — but I couldn’t.
I was waiting for good news — but only bad news came.
Only 20 minutes earlier, I was told she had pneumonia and would be home in five to seven days.
Now, death lurked outside her room.
A friend called and I tried to find an exit.
Disoriented I could not find the exit. After what felt like an eternity, but was likely 15 or 20 seconds, I found my way outside the hospital.
I tried to tell him, “She isn’t going to make it,” – but I couldn’t get the words out.
My knees buckled.
As I crouched beside the emergency room entrance, tears streamed down my face.
I tried to remember the last time I cried. Perhaps it was when I was in elementary school. Regardless, my aunt would have consoled me. Now she was fighting for her life — and there was nothing I could do.
After three or four attempts, I got the words out: “She’s probably not going to make it,” I wailed.
I had to go back into the hospital.
Now she was likely not going to make the night, something I was promised not five minutes earlier.
My knees buckled again.
A priest arrived. My brother had called for him to administer final rights, and he had as I waited outside.
I didn’t like him. He seemed too mechanical.
My grandmother, my aunt’s older sister, arrived. She found the priest comforting — and clung onto his hand, as she did his every word.
I couldn’t find God. I felt alone.
I sat quietly in a conference room outside of the emergency room. My mother, brother, grandmother and Father Al discussed what would come next.
The nightmare that had encompassed my reality 20 minutes earlier made it difficult to concentrate.
I was asked, “What do you want to do?”
With a ventilator, she might have another day. Maybe two. What was certain was that she would never go home. Cancer had spread throughout her body in the last 72 hours. She fought hard. She never complained. Even in her final moments, she remained strong.
I was pressed to make a decision.
Instead, I headed for the door.
I needed air.
I couldn’t pull the plug. She wasn’t a dog.
I went outside and called another friend.
Again, I struggled to say, ”She’s not going to make it.”
Two times I called her back trying to get the words out and I finally came close. She understood and didn’t make me utter the poison.
She spoke slowly and comforted me.
She expressed concern. I needed that. She told everything was going to be OK — eventually.
She reminded me of my aunt. Her words made me feel slightly better.
I was becoming increasingly numb.
My brother called repeatedly. I had to go.
Inside, I accepted the new reality. She was dying.
My tears continued.
I was finally able to go into the room and see my aunt.
I was only able to stare in disbelief. So many wires. So little life.
My nightmare worsened as I was lead to the intensive care unit.
A nurse handed me a tissue box as I floated through the room toward an elevator.
“I am so sorry,” I heard so many times as I made my way to an elevator.
Most of the medical professionals seemed genuine. Others seemed robotic.
There were people laughing in the elevator.
“Where is Betty,” my grandmother asked.
“We will see her upstairs,” my mother, or was it my brother, replied.
My grandmother, who is facing dementia, was suffering — and having to learn of the new reality every few minutes.
It was so cruel. And not fair.
Father Al spotted a nun in the elevator. I forget her name.
She did not seem to grasp what was happening. To her, Aunt Betty was just another patient — and we were just another grieving family. I understood, but she still seemed cold.
I spoke with my aunt, my mom’s sister, in Florida. She was preparing to fly up. She would be here Friday.
Soon, my aunt would be brought to a room in the ICU on the eighth floor.
I encouraged my mother, brother and grandmother to each say goodbye before they pulled the plug. Doctors couldn’t say for certain how long she would have after they removed her life-support.
I went last.
As I grasped her hand, tears poured down my face.
I told her how much she has meant to me — how she was my inspiration and everything I have and will accomplish will be a testament to her.
I apologized for the times I let her down and for being sometimes short with her.
I wasn’t sure if she heard me, but hoped that she did.
I softly kissed her forehead.
Doctors then removed her life support.
I returned to the room and grasped her hand and held her arm.
I spoke with her until the end, as two friends have suggested.
Her heartbeat began to slow. Her hands became cold.
Tears continued to stream down my face.
I told her I loved her, how I needed her, how she made me the person I am today.
A wonderful nurse kept checking in on me.
My grandmother, brother and mother came in. My grandmother started to shake. It was too much for her. It was too much for all of us.
My brother wheeled my grandmother, who was in a wheelchair out of the room. My aunt would have been proud. My grandmother needed my brother more than ever at that moment.
My mother tried to rub my shoulders, but I needed to focus on my aunt. I didn’t want to be touched.
At some point, they left.
Within 10 minutes, the nurse returned with water for me. It tasted so cold, but I so needed it. My throat was like the Sahara.
Aunt Betty’s heart rate continued to drop. It hung around 20 beats per minute.
My mother returned.
I continued to grasp my aunt’s hand — as she had done for me countless times. She was always there for me. I would be there for her until the end.
The nurse suggested I tell my aunt that it’s OK to go, that she was holding back from her maker.
As tears poured down my face, I told Aunt Betty she has taught me well. I promised to take care of my brother — and to try to hold my family together.
At some point, my brother and grandmother returned.
Within 45 seconds, her heart stopped.
She met God, and my universe has not been the same since.