Hi everyone. Here’s what has been going on with me, why I had to take a leave of absence.
For about a week my mother, Marilyn Ryburn of Little Rock, Arkansas had been hospitalized with pneumonia. She also had a hernia which the doctors deemed inoperable due to her age and the fact that she had a pacemaker. For a while the medication seemed to help her, but toward the end of last week she seemed to take a turn for the worse. Last Friday I had “the conversation” with her – if surgery for the hernia was necessary to save her life, what were her wishes if she was not in a state to consent or decline on her own. She said she left the matter in my hands. She also told me that if she were in a situation where life support was keeping her alive with no chance for a recovery, she wanted me to ask them to pull the plug.
Saturday morning I woke up to a missed call from 12:33 AM. I keep my iPhone’s ringer turned off at work so as not to disturb my co-workers, and I guess I forgot to turn it back on. The call was from the hospital. The nurse said, “Paul, please call us about your mother,” and left a number. It’s never good when they don’t tell you why they need to talk to you in the voice mail.
I finally got a hold of Mama’s doctor. She had a cardiac arrest and collapsed early Saturday morning. She was in no pain but the only thing keeping her alive was the machines. “She’s not brain dead but she’s completely unresponsive. She’s not coming back,” said the doctor. After consulting with her older brother, my uncle Forrest Green of Prarie View, Texas, I gave them permission to turn off life support.
“Do you want us to keep her on life support until you can drive over from Memphis and see her one last time?” the doctor asked me.
“Would she know I was there?” I replied.
“No,” the doctor said.
“Then don’t wait on me,” I told them. My last memory of my grandfather was of him lying in a hospital bed, near death. I didn’t want that to be my last memory of Mama. I had visited her on Christmas and she sat there in her chair, eating the pecans I had bought for her at the Peanut Shop down the street from where I live. That’s how I wanted to remember her.
“Then we will focus on her comfort and start removing her from our systems. She will be in no pain during her final minutes or hours. Would she want a prayer said over her before we disconnect life support?” the doctor asked.
“Yes, she would like that very much,” I said.
“Okay, then we will have the chaplain come up and say a prayer, then we will start the process,” the doctor told me. “Do you want us to call you right before we disconnect her, or afterward?”
“Afterward,” I told the doctor. “I don’t think I could bear it if you called me before.”
I needed my friends. My friends are very much my family and I don’t know how I would have got through this without their support. I was with my friends Clay and John D, and with Panda, Bloom, Jai and my Bardog family, when I got the call that I have been dreading my entire life.
“Paul, she passed peacefully a few minutes ago,” a nurse told me. “Time of death was 11:08 AM.” She asked what funeral home my mother was using, and arranged for her body to be sent there. Later that day the funeral home called me, confirmed that they had the body, and set a 2 PM appointment for Monday, January 23 to make the arrangements.
I decided not to drive over to Little Rock until Monday morning. That was partly because I couldn’t do much with Mama’s affairs over the weekend, and didn’t want to waste money on unnecessary hotel nights. However, the main reason was that I needed to be around my friends. With Mama gone, my friends are my everything. They are the reason I am going to make it through this.
Monday I went to the funeral home and made the arrangements. Thank goodness Mama pre-arranged everything, and they coordinated with her life insurance for the cost to come out of there. I didn’t even have to write a check. For those of you with children, you will be doing them a huge favor by pre-arranging your funeral.
Then I drove over to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, the church where Mama was a member and for several years a front desk volunteer. “Have you decided where to have the service yet?” they asked. “We’d be honored to have it for her here.” So I met with Father Danny at St. Mark’s and he asked me a little about her so he could pick Scripture readings for the funeral.
It occurred to me that I now have no beneficiary for my life insurance and 401(k) at work. Over the weekend I identified a charity that I would like to name as my beneficiary. For reasons I won’t go into, I don’t want to discuss it on here but feel free to ask me about it. I emailed them and got their tax ID and other relevant information so I can file the paperwork when I return to work late next week.
Tuesday was the hardest day. I had to find someone to donate all her belongings to, someone who would come and clean out her apartment. After being told “Sorry, we don’t do that” about a dozen times, Union Rescue Mission agreed. They will be out Thursday morning. I was doing OK until I walked into Mama’s bedroom and saw the stuffed animals she slept with. Then I just completely lost it.
Her neighbor had a spare key and I gave the neighbor and others in the building who cared about Mama permission to enter her apartment and take the memories they wanted. I requested specifically that someone take the stuffed animals, and her neighbor did.
I made sure to take care of myself and not do too much on any one day. As you can see from the previous post, I treated myself to a visit to a couple of craft breweries and dinner at one of Little Rock’s most famous restaurants.
About to get dressed and go to Mama’s funeral. I expect to be back in Memphis Friday and probably off work through next Wednesday to grieve and take care of Mama’s affairs.
That’s what’s going on. Forgive me if I am slow to respond to your messages for the next few days.