Our Dirty Little Secret
… wasn’t so secret.
My mom was an alcoholic.
We tried to deny it, hide it. We were ashamed. We never talked about it. It hung above us like a big huge grey thunder cloud. Then, one day it stormed and crashed down all around us.
That day was March 13, 2001. That was the day my mom was admitted to the hospital.
I saw my mom every day but the day before March 13 I will never forget how my mom looked. I was sitting in the living room of the house I grew up in and saw mom and dad arrive home. Dad had just taken Mom to the ER because she wasn’t feeling well. The doctor told her to go home. That nothing was wrong. I looked at her and knew something wasn’t right. Her belly was so swollen she looked 9 months pregnant. There was no way she was pregnant though.
The morning of the 13th my life changed. My dad called and said that mom was admitted. I immediately went to the hospital and saw my mom lying in that bed. It felt too real that something bad could happen.
Later in the day my dad, brother and I were taken into a separate room and were counselled by a nurse as to why Mom was there. Everything that was happening was due to her dependence on alcohol. I don’t remember much of the conversation but that was the jyst of it. I was still in shock.
The next day Mom went into a toxic coma. They were trying to prepare her for a flight to the city (which is a 2 hr flight or 8 hour drive south) to a better equipped hospital. It took hours to prepare her. We waited and waited. I never realized how serious it could be until years later.
My brother, my dad and I made the long torturous drive to the city. We stopped by my aunt’s first and when she was hugging and saying goodbye to us, I couldn’t stop crying.
By the time we got to the hospital my cousin and my mom’s best friend (who was there for work) were waiting for us. It was comforting to have them there.
Mom was in a coma for a few days. When she awoke she couldn’t talk because of the tube down her throat. When we told her she had to be flown there, the look on her face I will never forget. She was terrified of flying. And sadly that was her first flight ever. She had missed it.
Mom was in the hospital in the city for a few weeks. All the while we were missing school (me, university, and my brother, part of his senior year of high school). My dad missed a lot of work.
There was one instance I remember vividly with my mom in the hospital. Even while she was in there things were tense between us. She would ask for certain foods, foods that the doctor did not want her to eat, to be snuck in and I would say no. She’d get so upset. But at one point we were alone. It was probably, well it was, the last time I ever got to speak with her just myself before she passed away. She looked me in the eye and apologized for everything. She said she realized how much of an embarrassment she had been to us. I had no words. I know I replied and tried to shrug it off like it was nothing. I didn’t want to upset things further. I told her that everyone knew she was alcoholic and that it was just the way things were. All she could say was that she was sorry. She knew she couldn’t make up for it now. It was too late.
Still we held out hope things would be different. My dad said we were going to get her into treatment and things were going to get better. But it was not meant to be.
They flew my mom back home and she returned to the hospital here. Apparently there was not much else they could do for her. Her organs were slowly failing one by one. Then, we were called in by her doctor. No one wants to get that call.
Mom wanted to go home for a few days even though she had said she didn’t want to die at home. She didn’t want us to have to live with that memory. But we granted her wish. I signed the discharge papers and we took her home for a few days.
During that time my cousin and a good friend of ours (both of whom are nurses) along with my brother took great care of Mom. All I could do was sit or stand by while they helped with medications, toileting, washing, etc. I never felt so useless in my life. And I had nightmares. Ones I woke up screaming from. Nightmares of Mom slipping away.
The pain became too much and mom had to be taken back to the hospital. It was close to midnight.
All the next day Mom was drugged with morphine for the pain and she was barely lucid. However, she awoke for a short period in the afternoon. She asked us for the telephone. We brought in the big payphone from the hallway with the super long extension cord (that I swear reached from one end of the hospital wing to the other). She asked us to dial our aunt’s phone number. When she connected with my aunt Mom asked her to take care of us for her. That broke my heart.
I was still at a point of disbelief, that she couldn’t really leave us.
Mom was only awake and comprehendable for a short time that day. The rest of the time she looked like she was asleep or having a dream. Her mouth was constantly moving and every once in a while her arms and hands would move around and make gestures. At one point she was rubbing her swollen belly. I believe she was talking to others in a world beyond our own. I think she was telling them her story and what was taking place in her body. I hope, or I like to think, she was talking to her dad and my other grandpa.
Because we lived in such a small community Mom’s hospital room was never empty. Tons of people came by throughout that entire stay which was coming close to a month now. That last day was no exception.
Eventually my dad had had enough. That evening he politely asked everyone to leave, even my mom’s mom. Dad told Grandma that he was Mom’s husband and it was his job to take care of her.
So, my cousin, my brother, my dad and I stayed with Mom that night. I was starting to drift off when my cousin came over to me and whispered, “it’s time.”
As a nurse she knew the moment Death would arrive. We all stood around Mom crying, hugging, holding on to her. Dad whispered something in Mom’s ear before her final breaths. Then, she let go.
She went in peace. I like to think there was no pain for her, just release.
I am grateful I got to spend those last moments with her. I just wish we could have had more alone time beforehand. Or that there was something I could have done to prevent her death all together.
My mom passed away shortly before 1 am on April 12, 2001. She was only 41. Some days it feels like yesterday and others, forever ago.
To say she will be missed is an understatement. She was my mom and I’ll never have another one. A piece of my family is gone forever.
What I wouldn’t give to have it back.