In our lives, there are moments that can change our world forever. Recognizing these moments as they happen only increases the intensity. Whether it be the birth of a child or the death of a loved one, we are sent on a journey we have no way to prepare for. In my case, there are three days that have changed everything I thought I knew about myself and the world I lived in.
June 10th, 2007 I stood at the San Francisco airport waiting to come home from a week-long vacation celebrating my 27th birthday. My Mother, Mary Jo, accompanied me on this venture. She hadn’t been feeling well in the past few weeks. Fatigued and unable to hold down food, her doctors had ran multiple tests but told her it wasn’t anything to worry about. While we prepared to board the plane, I happened to glance into my mother’s eyes and noticed they were yellow. When I asked her about it, she said “stop goofing around” and reached for a mirror. The look on her face as she stared at her reflection told me that what once was nothing to worry about suddenly became something very serious and real. We returned home and the next day my mom went to the emergency room where she was admitted for a blockage in her stomach. This was the start of my world crumbling around me.
June 28th, 2007 My brother Sean, his wife Christine, my nephew Jonah and I sat in the waiting room of Huntington Hospital for word on how my mother’s exploratory surgery had gone. X-rays had shown that there was a pea sized mass at the top of her pancreas. I stared down the hallway to the operating room for what seemed to be an eternity until finally I saw the doctor round the corner. Everything seemed to slow to a crawl. The doctor pulled his scrub his hat off as he walked staring at the ground. I looked down at my hands and took a deep breath. The next thing I know the doctor is sitting in front of me and I hear him say “The mass is the size of a baseball and we weren’t able to remove it. I’m sorry.” Now wasn’t the time for tears as my brother and I had to break it to our mom that she was dying. We sat by her bedside waiting for her to wake up from the anesthesia. As she started to come to, we held her hand tight. Her eyes opened slightly and asked “How did it go?” Sean told her that the tumor was actually wrapped around her portal vein and they couldn’t remove it. Just as my mom was able to whisper “oh,” she fell back asleep. A few seconds later she came around again and asked “How did it go?” Telling your mom she is dying is hard enough, but having to do it twice is unimaginable. Thankfully this time it took, and she replied with a simple “Well that sucks.” In the days that followed, after catching wind that my mom had cancer, her job promptly fired her. They said “She can return if she is cancer free or in remission. No sooner.” Thus began a battle for my mother’s life with no income or medical insurance to speak of.
The next year and a half, I struggled to make sense of all that had been going on. My mom’s diagnosis was the tip of the iceberg. In that time, my brother and his wife had 2 miscarriages. Our family had fought and won a legal battle for my mom’s wrongful termination. My father assaulted my teenage brother. My nephew drank poison he had come across after sneaking out of the view of his sitter. The day I found out my mother’s tumor had tripled in size, I also found out that my father was in a motorcycle crash that left him permanently disabled. Not to mention the countless chemo and radiation treatments I watched my mother go thru up to this point. The last round of chemo in December of ’09 was so strong, it put her into isolation.
Jan 13th, 2009 This day seemed like all that had come before it, a blur. My mom was released from the hospital shortly after the new year as she just wanted to, in her words “go home and die.” Hospice made routine visits to make sure she was comfy and do anything for her that she couldn’t do herself. But the morning of the 13th, To my surprise, my mom had changed her mind. She had put in a call to her doctor saying she wasn’t ready to die and she wanted back on chemo. Exhausted from all the excitement, she decided to take a nap. Having to work late that evening, I decided it wasn’t a bad idea if I took a nap also. Fast asleep on the couch, I was awoken by the phone ringing. Her doctors were calling to discuss her options. I got up and went into her room to hand her the phone, but her bed was empty. I knocked on the bathroom door… no answer. I opened the door to find my mom sitting on the toilet, leaning against the wall gasping for air. All the fluid build-up from her cancer was pressing on her lungs making it difficult to breath. I quickly grabbed her oxygen tank and her wheel chair. I thought if I got her back to bed, she could lay out and she would be fine. As I tried to lift her, I realized the 40lbs of fluid build-up made it impossible for me to move her by myself. I told her I was going to call 911 and get help. And at that moment, as I looked into her eyes, my world stopped. Her eyes turned glassy, arms fell to her side and her head slammed against the wall. There was nothing but silence. I yelled “MOM!!! MOM!!!!!” Saliva dripped out of her mouth as she sat there lifeless. Suddenly she took a big breath and started to show signs of life. I immediately called 911. The medics arrived and said it was bad and they needed to take her to the ER. After making a few phone calls to immediate family, I arrived at the hospital to find my mom sitting upright and talking. For the next hour, we joked about how she scared me to death and to never do that again. The doctors told me they were going to keep her overnight for observation and going to transfer her to a room upstairs. I told her to get some rest and I would be back later on.
A few hours had passed and I received a phone call from the hospital asking for me to come down and fill out some paperwork. I said “sure” and headed down to the hospital. Upon entering, I was told my mom was just being transferred into her room and I was free to visit her. I walked to her room and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was night and day from when I saw her just hours before. She had lost all control of her bodily functions. Her eyes bounced around like pinballs. Her tongue hung from her mouth. When she realized I was there, she attempted to say my name “bra…” but all she could get out were the first few letters. I kissed her on the forehead, told her I loved and to get some rest, and then made the biggest mistake of my life…. I left. I didn’t have the numbers for my family with me so I decided to go home and call everyone. I ran down the list, breaking the news to each one that it looked bad. I got to the last person, my father. During the course of our call, he asked me if I would pray with him. Even though I am not a religious person, I said yes and we proceeded to pray for my mother. After we said “Amen,” I told him I would call him later. Not a second I hung up the phone did it ring again. It was the hospital. The nurse on the line said “Mr. Hutton, a priest had just finished anointing her, and she passed away. I’m sorry.” I said “Thank you” and hung up the phone. After talking to Sean, we decided to head down to the hospital and see our Mom one last time. As I stood at her feet, staring at her pale face, I wondered “What do I do now? How do I go on?“