Helsinki did not turn out to be the fun weekend trip we had imagined; On our second morning, we woke to the alarm and Kay saw an urgent email from his father, so he Facetimed him. I was still half-asleep when my FIL jerked me out of my reverie with the most unexpected words: “Mami liegt im sterben”. (Mami is dying.)
I didn’t understand all of the rest of their conversation as Kay’s father explained what happened, but Kay told his father, “I’m coming,” and then we flew into action trying to find a flight home as soon as possible.
We knew his mother had a brain bleed and it was bad, but I was afraid to ask more on the bus to the airport. Neither of us could believe this was happening. The phone call seemed like an awful nightmare. Everything was moving in slow motion and we were afraid to hear more news about her before we made it home. We prayed for a miracle.
It took us eight hours and two delayed flights to get home and by the time we made it to the hospital in Winterthur, I gripped Kay’s hand tightly as we entered the ICU ward together.
A nurse met us inside the dark ward to take us to Kay’s mother. As she started explaining how it would be overwhelming to see his mother hooked up to a ventilator and many tubes, Kay desperately asked for an update on her situation and her outlook for recovery. That’s when the nurse explained that it was too late… she would not recover from this. She didn’t say the words then, but I started crying as I realized my sweet MIL was brain dead.
It was scary and foreign walking through the dim back halls of the ward to the patient rooms, past elderly people hooked up to machines and people obviously in pain. We arrived at my MIL’s bed and it was too much… the machines, the tubes, the ventilator, and there sitting next to her was my FIL holding her hand.
“It’s all over,” he said as we all started crying together. We hugged him tight, so tight, and tried to catch our breath that this is reality, that this was really happening.
Through tears, my FIL explained how they had been watching TV together on Saturday night and then my MIL went up to bed while my FIL took a shower. When he came to bed she was snoring loudly, far too loudly, so he asked her what the deal was, and when she didn’t wake after he tried to rouse her, he knew something was terribly wrong. He called the ambulance immediately, but when the squad arrived they said the outlook was grim. She’d obviously had a massive brain hemorrhage.
At the hospital, scans confirmed that a third of her brain had filled with blood. Not only was the location in the inner brain inoperable, but recovery chances from such a massive bleed were next to nothing.
We waited for my BIL to arrive from the airport. His reaction was even more heartbreaking than Kay’s. Disbelief and utter, total heartbreak. These boys had such a special connection to their mother with Portuguese, it was truly excruciating to see this connection sever in front of their eyes.
Later on, the doctors explained how it was likely that she went to bed and very shortly after had an entirely debilitating, expunging stroke. They explained how often, stroke victims have some physical response in the hospital if they are still “there” at all, like raised body temperature, sweating, etc, that show that the person is suffering. My MIL had none of that.
She displayed no sign of hearing upon arrival, pupil reactions in one eye were already gone and followed with the other one by mid afternoon, and she did not display any kind of sign that she was still with us. Her brain had stopped telling her body to pump her lungs, but aside from that, everything else was normal. Her heart beat, she was warm to the touch and it appeared as if she were just sleeping and might wake soon.
Together, as a family, we agreed that the doctors would do one more neurological exam before marking her official death. We all agreed that we should donate most of her organs. My FIL and her had only talked about it a little, but the rest of us were also sure that she would have wanted to help others in any way possible. That was the kind of woman she was.
The transplant coordinator thanked us for all coming. We asked her what she meant, isn’t it normal to come in an event like this? But she told us, unfortunately most of the time she deals with families where they either cannot deal with the circumstances or do not want to come. That was surprising and depressing, but it also showed us how strong our little family is.
Those hours in the hospital were truly horrible and I hope it is a long, long, long time before we ever see an ICU like that again, if ever. There were a lot of words in German that I had never, ever heard before and hope I do not have to hear them again for a long time.
We spent the following week planning her funeral and asking ourselves, why? Why her? Why now…?
She had just turned 64, the retirement age for women in Switzerland. By law, you must work until the end of the month of your birth to reach your pension, something she and I complained about together because we were both born on the first of our birth months. She had one more week, three working days, until her pension started. One fucking week.
Instead of bringing the snacks to work that she’d purchased for her leaving party, my FIL was heading there to clean out her locker. We canceled their joint 60th birthday for my FIL and retirement party for her and on what should have been her first day of retirement, we held her funeral mass. How’s that for irony?
The next day, on the fifth anniversary of my engagement to Kay, we buried her in the family plot that we’d all visited together just a few years ago. We knew she wanted to be buried there, but never, ever imagined that we would take her to rest there so early.
It is still so hard to believe that she is really gone. We accept it, but it is still so difficult knowing that just a short time ago she was here. Moments before she went to bed, she wrote on one of my Helsinki photos on Facebook: “Have three wonderful days in Helsinki. Kisses.”
I really, really wish we had had three wonderful days there and that we could tell her all about it right now. 🙁