Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On this day last year I went to the hospital to see Joseph. I spent the morning with him, waiting to hear from the doctor, to see how things look, hoping for some change that would point us back in the right direction, so worried about the leak he had developed in the upper portion of his right lung that was filling his body cavity with air. I don't remember the doctor coming in nor remember exactly everything he said. He had a heavy accent and was very difficult to communicate with. His English was not very good, or at least not good enough to satisfy a worried parent who felt her son's well being was resting on a man she could not fully understand. But he mentioned having told Stewart it was time to consider DNR the day before. My heart started pounding so hard and I remember feeling this rush of horrible adrenaline and tension as I called Stewart to see if that was really true, to find out why he had not said anything about it. And typical of some doctors and not surprising given how hard this man was to understand, Stewart confirmed he had, but that it had been done in such a way it just sounded like a suggestion that was not very important, as if Joseph needed a new pair of slipper socks or maybe consider enrolling him in basketball when he gets well. It was not phrased in a way that made it clear he was in fact telling us Joseph was out of options and going to die.

I called somebody, I don't remember who, and arranged a care conference for the next morning with all of Joseph's wonderful specialists, the social worker, his oncologists, his infectious disease doctor, his critical care doctor....I don't remember who else. We wanted them all together, in the same room, telling us one at a time that there was no longer any hope of survival. That in their opinions, Joseph would never recover. I kicked then into high efficiency mode, shut off my emotions and went completely, horrifically numb. I called Joe and let him know that Joseph was most likely going to die the next day or the day after. I don't much remember that call. I called my mother and asked her to come to the apartment and help me clean, as I knew there was going to be a funeral and people would be coming. I met her back there, told her what was going on and we cleaned the apartment together and then went to the mall because I had gained weight through Joseph's illness and had nothing suitable to wear to bury my son in. I remember the macabre feeling of shopping for a dress, trying things on, finding nothing to fit or look decent and mentally berating myself over and over for becoming so fat that I am an embarassment to Joseph. I remember a horrifying moment when I found myself bitterly quiping to my mother that "after all, you only get to buy a dress to bury your son in once!", and thinking of the graduations and wedding and all his other milestones that would never now be reached. I found a dress that was inappropriately low cut but otherwise looked good and purchased it with the intention of getting a black simple camisole to cover the cleavage it exposed.

I don't remember how I slept the night before. I remember the surreal, numb feeling of looking out the hospital window at the end of the corridor as I waited for Stewart to arrive the next morning, how I went in and stroked Joseph's soft head and whispered into his ear that he was all done, that he was not going to have to do this any more, that he could be finished and free was all over and he had made me so proud of him, that he was so strong. He wasn't doing well that morning. His settings were very high. His blood oxygen was falling. It became apparent he was going to die on the respirator within a few days no matter what and suddenly that made it very important that we not let him, that we give him a peaceful passing in a planned out, calm way in which his father and I were there, that there was no panic, only peaceful surrender. I knew then once we made the decision to discontinue treatment we could not let him hang on another day. It would be that day, January 10th.

We had the meeting. Each doctor told us one at a time they believed we have done all we could do, that Joseph had fought a good fight and that they had loved being a part of his life. They were very kind. We were not given a deadline of when we had to discontinue the ventilator but were gently let know that he was failing and that he could actually pass on his own any time. We were encouraged to get Nick and Alex to the hospital so they could know what was going to happen and have an opportunity to say goodbye before Joseph died. Phone calls were made to our family to come as soon as they could. Stewart went and got the kids and brought them to the hospital for a meeting with the child life specialists, the social worker and us to let them know that Joseph was going to die today. I cannot write about the horror and pain of that meeting nor how they boys reacted. It will remain one of the most painful memories of my life. Nick wanted to go see Joseph alone; Alex wanted to stay close to us. Nick seemed more peaceful after his meeting with Joseph and I remain hopeful to this day that having the chance to say goodbye, even though Joseph could not regain consciousness or respond, did him some good.

Family arrived. One by one, couple by couple, our brothers, siblings, their husbands and wives, and Joseph's loving grandparents had the chance to see him and spend a little time with him alone. The afternoon stretched on. I was so restless, out of body, efficient, perhaps almost cold to the outside world. I just felt separate and floating three feet above it, as if I were watching my life rather than living it. In time, all were done, all was said. Mom wanted to have everyone go pray together holding hands or some such around Joseph's body with the priest while he passed and I resented that. I was having none of it. Only Stewart and I would be there. I could not fathom anyone, not even family, witnessing that moment other than his medical team, his father and I. We brought him into this world. We would cradle him out.

We went back to his room. Monitors were turned off, sedatives administered to our courageous son, Stewart and I positioned to touch and talk and hold and watch. The room went silent as the machines were turned off and at 4:58 PM on January 10th, 2007, Joseph Anthony Morrison, a light to all who knew him, returned to the God who created him.

I feel as out of body today, approaching this anniversary, as I did the days of his death.

I miss you baby boy. I am so sorry we could not heal you. I am so happy you are no longer suffering. I wish I could see you again. Your spirit is ever with me.

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