Oftentimes we’re told that we should forget about the past. Sure, it’s okay to learn from past bad decisions, but sometimes those years are better left alone.
The other day, I went back twenty-one years to uncover the basis for a mystery that has haunted me since September 24th, 1994. Twenty one years of fear and uncertainty came to an end in just ten minutes time.
My mother died on September 24th, 1994 in my parents’ home in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was 77 years old and she died in her sleep. Although she had some chronic health-related issues with which to contend, no one could have predicted her sudden death because she lived a vital and active life.
Dad didn’t want an autopsy performed on my mother which – at the time – I was okay with; it was his decision to make; he didn’t want her body assaulted just to find out why her life ended on that particular day.
That decision was the basis for my twenty-one years of fear.
I imagine a daughter who loses her mother to breast cancer would be hyper-concerned about her own breast health. “Is that a lump I feel? Are my breasts supposed to hurt? Is that a skin abnormality I see underneath my left breast?”
My mother’s many years of heart related issues – as well as the degenerative disease of rheumatoid arthritis – made me hyper-vigilant about the aches and pains in my joints and the unusual chest discomfort I experienced from time to time, only to be examined and told that not only did I not have RA, my heart was one of the most beautiful organs cardiologists had ever seen. Even that declaration wasn’t enough to put my fears to rest.
I can’t adequately describe the prevailing fear I have experienced because of the lack of knowledge surrounding my mother’s sudden passing. The other day that particular fear was assuaged when I combed through my mother’s 1994 wall calendar that was recently unearthed in my brother’s household belongings. I asked him for the calendar, wanting to get a peek at the days leading up to my mother’s passing.
I went back a few months until I came to a notation on July 1st, 1994: leg accident. My mother incurred a substantial injury to her left leg. This accident caused massive bleeding that eventually put her in the hospital for four days to better assist with her healing.
Early September, mom started to feel extremely tired. During one of many calls to her in Honolulu from my home in the Seattle area, she said she didn’t understand why she had so little energy, and why she just didn’t feel up to par. She and dad eventually scheduled an emergency appointment with her doctor because her symptoms weren’t getting better. That appointment occurred on September 23rd, 1994. She had a thorough exam and blood work, as well as a stress echo to determine the health of her heart, but nothing suspicious showed up.
That night she went to bed early – she just couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. She died several hours later.
After us kids returned to our respective homes after flying – literally – to dad’s side upon learning of mom’s passing, I pursued the matter by calling her primary care physician. He gladly spoke with me – I guess the patient privacy laws weren’t all that stringent at the time. I asked for his opinion about the cause of mom’s passing. He indicated that it could have very well been a blood clot that traveled from her leg, north through her body and eventually took her life. That would certainly explain the shortness of breath and extreme tiredness mom experienced a few months after her leg accident.
It’s funny, all these years I was never comforted by her doctor’s assumption about cause of death. I let drama take over, assuming she died of something – most likely heart related – that had nothing to do with that accident to her leg. It took my pouring over my mother’s handwritten notations on her wall calendar – not unlike a daily diary – to be convinced that her death was far less random than one would think.
This gift of learning the truth must have been mom’s way of placing her arms around me to provide long-awaited and much desired comfort.