My mother was in perfect health and one day after church, she and my step-dad were out in the yard, weeding the gardens, trimming the trees, and enjoying the mid-July sunshine, in Panama City. One of several trees that needed trimming was a palm tree, its branches extending over top of the roof of the house. Bob, my step-dad, would have to climb up on a ladder to get to them, but the one he had wasn’t quite tall enough, so he placed it on top of a wooden box (I am not 100% sure of the type of box, as it was unclear in the scheme of things), and for safety, asked my mother to hold the ladder. As she held it, he climbed up, trimmed the few necessary branches, and was on his way back down when he lost his footing. Though he had a good grip with his hands, he began to slide down the ladder, which then flipped some kind of way, spun around and literally pinned my mother’s legs against the brick wall of their house, shattering the bones in both.
As Bob called the paramedics, in tears, my mother remained calm and did not panic. She must have gone into shock, her brain not registering the immense pain she should have been experiencing. Once at the hospital, they took her right into x-ray, and I was later told that her right leg was nearly four inches shorter than her left, due to the severity of the breakage of the bones. The immediately set one leg into a brace and took her to an operating room to begin the first of many anticipated surgeries on the other. As my sister relayed the news to me, she was, of course, quite upset and very worried, but assured me that she was conscious on her way into surgery and in good spirits, as the last thing she said to her on the phone was, “Everyone else has broken a bone. I suppose it is my turn.” I was told it was serious, but that she was in very good hands and that she would be fine.
I was a little bewildered, as these kinds of things do not happen to my family and it was so sudden, it just didn’t quite sink in. My sister is a lawyer and at the time owned her own practice in Sebring where she lives, roughly a nine-hour drive from my mother and Bob’s house. She was told it wasn’t necessary for her to come, but she wrestled with the decision, feeling she was being selfish not to go, until finally, she made the choice to fly up. She went alone and it wasn’t until later that her husband and children drove up to join her. The next two weeks would prove to be the toughest and roughest she has ever known.
The first surgery went as expected and the second was already scheduled for the next day. After the second surgery, the doctors became concerned about the compound fractures in the other leg. they postponed further surgeries and things began to deteriorate from there. Whether she wasn’t strong enough for surgery or that her breathing was becoming an issue, the calls that came reported that things were not good, then the doctors were hopeful, then she was being seen by a specialist. At some point, they decided to place her in a medically induced coma and put her on a respirator. Due to the compound fracture, the marrow in the split bones traveled to her lung and caused an embolism, some type of atty clot, to lodge in one of her lungs. They were hopeful that it would resolve itself, but discovered that she had (undiagnosed) emphysema, though she had quit smoking 15 years before.
As each day passed, the positive reports became less and the reality of the situation began to set in. My sister was keeping me posted and we discussed me coming down to see her, possibly for the last time. Due to my drug use and other factors that had occurred in my life, I had not seen her in twelve years. Because of that, I really wanted to go and worried that I might regret it if I didn’t. At one point, my sister said to me in tears that I absolutely could come if I wanted to, but she begged me not to. She said that I really wouldn’t want to see her the way she was and have it be my last memory of her in that condition. I was devastated and torn, but agreed that it would be best to hold onto the memories I had and not be left with horrors was sister was facing.
From 3,000 miles away, all I could do was think, wonder, worry, and hope. Fortunately, at the time, I was seeing a therapist, and so, we discussed at length all that was happening and what to expect. By Devine intervention, I came to a realization that gave me peace and acceptance and truly prepared me for my mother’s death just hours later. I told my therapist that when it was my turn to go, I could only hope to have accomplished half of what my mother had, and that I truly believed that she was ready. She asked me what was it that brought me to that belief; why did I feel she was ready?
My sister was married to a good man, they had three wonderful children (with whom my mother spent a lot of time with), she had completed law school and opened her own practice and they were all doing well. She had lived to know that I was off the streets, stop using drugs, and was not only in school, but was on the President’s list regularly for my grades and had been invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, an International Honor Society. She was a member of a church and their choir, which she loved and enjoyed very much. In April, she celebrated her 20 year wedding anniversary with Bob and in May, they went to her family reunion where she spent time with aunts, uncles, cousins, and her father and his wife. It occurred to me that she had no unfinished business left in this life and that her turn to be an Angel. I found comfort in the fact that she would be joining her own mother and younger sister.
My mother passed away in the early morning hours of August 1, 2009, peacefully and without pain. I am grateful to my sister for pleading with me to not come to see her as sick as she was, but instead, hang onto the good and happy memories that my head and heart are full of. The most important thing my mother taught me was that there is always a bright side. She lived those words by example and I believed her wholeheartedly. There have been many a dark day when I have heard my mother’s voice in my ear, uttering those words, and finding great comfort and relief even before finding that particular dazzling level of positivity. If nothing else, she was my bright side. I am grateful that she was my mother, adore her for the things that she instilled in me, cherish every moment I survive or succeed on her wisdom, and know the blessing she was to me in her life and continues to be to me even after her untimely death. I will always remember her with a smile.