Last Tuesday morning I got the call from Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, Washington that my mother was very ill—the result of a tick bite that had caused a bacterial infection in her bloodstream and then a reaction to the administered antibiotics. I was on a plane from San Francisco that afternoon.
I arrived at ICU around midnight and made my way through the landscape of hospital corridors and maze of gatekeepers to her darkened room where she was conscious although drifty, and attached at every orifice to pumps and tubes that hummed, glugged, buzzed and beeped, bringing her back from the brink. I kissed her, stroked her face and held her hand as she told me she was glad I was there, but that she was ready to go. That she’d had a good life, but she was tired. I told her I didn’t think it was her time yet, and although she was ready, the rest of us weren’t ready to lose her. She sighed and drifted off to sleep. I went out to find the nurse and get an updated report on her condition.
As I wandered the seemingly abandoned podular hallway that circled the rooms, I experienced a small shiver, sensing the residual presence of all the souls that had passed through the twilit space on their way from this world to the next. I wondered at the traumas that had brought the other patients into ICU and about decisions made, not only by the doctors and nurses and family members of the ICU patients, but also of the individuals themselves—whether or not to stay or go.
I thought of Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY, of Mia’s out-of-body journey after she’d lost her family—of how she watched herself and the efforts of those around her to bring her back to life when she wasn’t sure she wanted to stay. The story had a big impact on me and I have thought often of the hard choice she made and wondered at what had happened after.
After being reassured by the nurse that my mother should make a full recovery, that the crisis was behind us, I went to check into my hotel room. Once I settle in, I downloaded WHERE SHE WENT, the follow up story to IF I STAY, onto my iPad. Over the next few days, as I watched my mother gather strength, rekindle an interest in sticking around for a while. and grow strong enough to go to a skilled nursing facility to do some physical therapy, I took breaks and read the story of the fallout from Mia’s decision, told from Adam’s (Mia’s heart-throb musician boyfriend) point of view. If you haven’t read it, (then you HAVE to! Read them both!) I don’t want to give it away, but I think I cried even harder. Good cathartic tears.
I am so grateful for stories that work their way into my heart and help me to understand emotionally complicated situations by showing how others might navigate their own traumatic landscapes.