Friday, November 3, 2006, I flew my mom out to Colorado from our family home on Florida’s east coast to spend a sweet weekend with my two daughters and me. My husband was out of town for a conference, so it made for a perfect girls’ weekend.
We were blessed with the typical Colorado fall pattern of weather: cool and dry with cobalt blue skies. We filled the weekend with fun activities. Friday after picking her up from the airport, we went to a luncheon hosted by a friend from my church. She was able to meet many of my friends with whom our family worshipped. Saturday morning we headed to a holiday bazaar at the Chinese adoption agency through which we brought our daughters home. This was a special treat for her. Both of my daughters were adopted from China, one at age fourteen months, and the second, a special needs child, was brought home two years later at the age of seven. My mother was enamored with my beautiful girls, as they were with her. It was very special for her to visit the adoption agency where our family journey began. We shopped for Chinese trinkets and gifts for the upcoming Christmas season. Saturday night I cooked one of our favorite dishes with shrimp and pasta; we shared some wine and watched a movie with the girls. I made a bubble bath for her in our gigantic tub, and had candles and music to help her relax and enjoy herself. Sunday morning we served communion together at my church. What a privilege this was, to share in serving at the Lord’s Table with my beloved mother. The weekend was truly spectacular. I am the middle of three daughters and had raised hell through my teenage years (and actually into my twenties as well…). Our family hadn’t been perfect; there were addiction issues, and my two sisters, my mom and I all suffered because of them. Mom had done the best she knew how to do in raising us, and I had turned out to be the rebel. My mom and I butted heads from the get-go, which is one of the reasons this visit had been so sweet. It seemed there was always residual tension between the two of us. This time had been different. Although my mother was 82 years old and in relatively good health, I felt as though I was finally placed into the special position of “looking after” her… holding her hand, cooking yummy food, taking care of her. It was the best time we had ever spent together, and I didn’t want it to end.
Monday after we sent the girls off to school, my mom joined me to run a few errands. She saw the emergency department where I worked, and then we headed home to drive up to the mountains with my husband, home from his conference, to enjoy lunch together at one of the large hotel-casinos in a nearby old mining town. We threw a few quarters in the slot machines just for fun, winning a few bucks. We had a blast. Afterwards, we headed back down the mountain to pick up my daughters from school and take my then six-year-old, JaneGrace, to her dance lesson. Mom was excited to see JaneGrace dance with all of her little friends and meet her dance instructor. We finally headed home to settle in for Mom’s last night with us. Little did I know it was truly to be her last night with us.
Mom went upstairs to get ready for dinner and do a little packing, for she was flying home the next morning (little did I know…) and I began scurrying around in the kitchen. Some amount of time went by, my husband was tucked into his chair in the living room and the girls were upstairs playing. I was in our pantry gathering dinner ingredients when all of a sudden I heard a horrific sound… a brief outcry, some kind of fall, something broke; it frightened me and I was immediately overcome with a sense of dread. I ran from the pantry and around the corner into our foyer area, arriving at the same time as my husband. I saw my beloved mother sprawled at the bottom of the stairs on the hardwood floor, with her legs splayed out on the last few steps. She was pale and very, very still. My first words were “She’s out cold!” as I leapt to her side, taking her head into my hands and performing a rapid assessment. My husband had glanced over as she was in mid-flight from the first landing to the foyer floor and was helpless to change the outcome, it all happened so fast. She had struck the floor with such force. My ER nursing skills took over instinctively as I cycled rapidly between daughter and nurse, my senses clumsily conveying the gravity of the situation to my brain. My next few uttered words were “Call 911,” “Clear the area for the medics,” and directing my husband outside to flag down the ambulance. This was all in between intermittent guttural wails as I was living out this unimaginable horror. While protecting my mother’s neck and keeping her airway open to ensure breaths, I slid her backwards until her entire body was off of the stairs and she was lying fully on the hardwood floor. It wasn’t until this moment that she gasped. It was the only movement and sound she made during those interminable moments while I was listening for the scream of the sirens. I realized that had been her first breath she had taken since the fall. In my terror, I had missed this crucial assessment finding.
At this point, my daughters had gathered at the top of the stairs, hearing the commotion, and wondered what was happening. Neither of their young brains could protect them from this vision at the bottom of the stairs. They both began to cry, and JaneGrace, asked me if her Nannie was dead. I assured her she was not, that I was doing everything I could to take care of her Nannie. LiLi also began to cry. The whole scene was just too much to bear. My girls adored their grandmother. We had just spent the most beautiful few days together; how could this have happened? I was supposed to put her on a plane tomorrow to head back home to Central Florida. What was I to do? I had to call my sisters… they would be so angry that this happened on my watch. This was a nightmare rapidly unfolding at the speed of light in my head. The emotions within me unfurled with the momentum of a great sail. I waited on my knees leaning over my mother’s lifeless body and cradled her head in between my hands until the ambulance and fire-truck crew arrived and took over. Her breaths were guttural, barely enough to sustain life. I could feel a faint pulse. “Oh Father God,” I cried; “Please show us some mercy.” My daughters were stricken with grief as they remained perched at the top of the stairs with a bird’s eye view of the unfolding events. I could not protect them from this event. It had happened in front of them. JaneGrace, my little sunshine face, and LiLi my special child were both witnesses to a cataclysmic event in our family’s life.
I asked the rescue crew to please take her to the emergency department at which I worked, which was St. Anthony Central in downtown Denver; a top-notched level-one trauma department. It was ironic that we had just been there a few hours earlier to show my Mom where I worked. The captain of the rescue team happily obliged… it was their predetermined destination. They stabilized her, loaded her into the back of the ambulance while I was helped into the front seat. My husband, LiLi, and JaneGrace followed in our car. I bowed my head in my hands as we drove down my residential street, with neighbors standing outside of their homes wondering what had just happened. The tragedy arrow had struck our lives, and we would never be the same, especially LiLi.
To be continued.