As I move through the seasons of this year, I can’t help but feel the imprint of the events and emotions of last year. I keep comparing moments from now to this time one year ago. There are many unofficial anniversaries that my internal clocks have kept. As we make the circuit of another year, I feel like I’m walking a path toward closure — as if once I walk through the threshold of these memories again a year after they happened, I will reach some sort of end. As if arriving at my mom’s transplant anniversary will close some magical circle and the story can rest.
December 2018 was heavy. There was still much that I didn’t know about my mom’s illness. I didn’t even know her diagnosis or what treatments would be available as her health plummeted before our eyes.
My husband, Jonny, and I didn’t go home for Christmas. It wouldn’t have mattered if we had; my parents weren’t there. In the weeks leading up to Christmas last year, my mom became deathly ill. She went to stay with her brother at a much lower elevation because she could no longer breathe in the mountains. She could hardly walk without her oxygen saturation falling to dangerous levels. She could no longer climb stairs.
I had this gnawing fear in me all the time despite being ignorant of the true nature of her condition. Intuition told me that things were not OK. I could hear it in my dad’s voice when he called, even though he didn’t disclose much about her prognosis.
I video-chatted with my parents on Christmas Day and despite their best efforts to seem normal, it was not a pretty sight. My mom was stark white and I could hear how rapid her breathing was, even while sitting on the couch. A deep unease settled in on what was supposed to be the most magical day of the year.
The next day, I got the call that started all this. My mom told me that she had gone to her pulmonology appointment back home and they had decided to arrange transport for her to The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center to begin testing to get her on the list for a lung transplant. This was the first I had heard about a transplant being a potential treatment.
What she didn’t say, though I learned later, was that she was too weak to walk. My dad brought her to the appointment in a wheelchair. Her vital signs were out of control and dangerous. She was flown to UCSF on a medical jet shortly after we hung up.
I received a text from her the next morning. “All went well last night. My own private plane to SF! Long night, not much sleep. I have a beautiful view, lovely day in SF.” She was still trying so hard to protect me from reality. Looking back, it astounds me that she had the presence of mind and strength to try to keep up the safety net.
We exchanged a few more texts over the next day, and one quick phone call before she went into the operating room for her tracheostomy. And then, silence. A series of daily text messages went unanswered. She resigned from our game of Wordfeud (a puzzle game). My mom would not forfeit to me in a word game unless she was literally dying. I moved my flight up four days. On New Year’s Day, I flew to San Francisco and dove into the most terrifying, life-changing, gut-wrenching, and awe-inspiring six months of my life.
Until I can examine all those things in a full year’s retrospect, I don’t think I’ll have closure on this experience. Even then I probably won’t. But being a year away from something has always been significant to me. It’s important for me to feel the weight of last December during this one. I know it’s not healthy to dwell, but I find myself welcoming the memory of that dread — the fear of the unknown, and the intuition of what was looming. It’s part of processing. It’s how I am finding closure.
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