Will Love For Crumbs Mother’s Day Excerpt

I haven’t felt the comfort of my mother’s touch in nearly nine years. It seems unreal that she’s been gone this long, but when I quiet my mind I can bring her back, if only for a moment. It was December 1, 2001, the day my boyfriend Adam and I picked up the last of my mom’s belongings to move into our new house. I was anxious to get back quickly. Although Mom had been staying on her own for short periods of time, I didn’t feel good leaving her alone.

She had become so ill that Adam suggested we rent a house together and move Mom in with us so he could help me with her care. Adam and I had only been dating for about a year; I couldn’t believe anyone would be so loving and kind as to take all this on so early in a relationship.

It had been an exhausting week of moving Adam, myself, and my Mom into the new house. Finally, finally, we were nearly done. Just a few more boxes and it would be over. We were driving Adam’s little pickup from my Mom’s apartment in West Hollywood, and were nearly to the new house in Pasadena when my cell phone rang.

I answered.

“Can’t… breathe…” Mom gasped.

“Mom? What’s happening? Are you OK?” I turned to Adam, “Drive faster!”

Adam pressed hard on the gas, maneuvering quickly through the freeway traffic. He told me once that all men, when driving fast, pretend they are racecar drivers. If this is true, he was doing an excellent job. I grabbed hold of the door with my free hand to stay balanced.

“My… my… the trach… come home,” Mom said before the phone went dead.

“Mom? Mom?” I shouted in the phone. I immediately tried to call her back, telling Adam, “All I got was she can’t breathe and something about her trach. I should never have left her. I’m such an asshole.” Mom’s phone went straight to voicemail.

Adam tried in vain to reassure me. “We’re only a couple of minutes away. It’s going to be OK.”

I thought about calling 911, but I knew all the doors were locked. We would already be home by the time any rescue workers showed up and figured out they’d have to break down the front door. When we arrived, Adam had barely shut off the motor before we were both out of the truck, running for the door.

By the time I entered my mother’s room, I was out of breath.  But she appeared to be OK—I was so relieved. She was in her hospital bed looking as calm as could be. “Are you OK?” I panted, trying to catch my breath and settle my nerves. Mom always amazed me with her ability to remain calm when all common sense indicated someone should be freaking out. That someone was usually me.

I was immediately reminded of the previous year, when she called me at work to tell me that they’d discovered a tumor in her brain stem. She mentioned this as casually as if we were making lunch plans: “So it seems I have a brain tumor.”

“What? When did you find that out?” I asked, shocked by the news.

“I just came from the doctor.”

I bolted out of my chair and began gathering my belongings from my desk. “Okay, I’m leaving now. I’ll be home in a minute.”

“Why are you going home?” Mom asked.

“So I can be with you,” I nearly shouted.

“But I’m not at home,” she replied calmly.

“Well, where are you?”

“I’m at work.”

“You went back to the office?” I was completely confused. If ever there were a doctor’s note to get out of work, “brain tumor” had to be at the top of the list.

“Where else would I go?” Mom sounded confused by my confusion.

“Um… home!” I said. “I’ll leave now and meet you there.”

Mom sighed, “And what are you going to do? Stand there and stare at me?”

I thought about this as I slowly sank back into my chair. What would I do once I got home? I knew for certain that I wouldn’t just stand there staring at her. That seemed not only rude, but a little creepy. I could listen. Well, I could listen under the condition that my mother would ever be willing to share even a smidge of information about her feelings.

The truth was I didn’t know what I would do, so I answered her with the only thing that made sense to me. “It seems to me if someone is told they have a brain tumor then they should go home. Normal people go home when bad stuff happens. I don’t know exactly what they do, but I’m pretty sure they do it at home.”

My coworker’s head popped up at the words “brain tumor.” She mouthed “Are you OK?”

I shrugged, throwing one hand in the air.

“Don’t worry,” Mom reassured me. “I’m not going to die today, so there’s nothing for us to do. The tumor didn’t appear overnight. It’s been there for a while and it will still be there when I get home. But, Jonna, if you want to go home you should. Don’t let me stop you.”

I leaned back in my chair, tossed my keys on the desk and tried to explain. “I can’t go home if you don’t go home. You have the tumor. If I’m all dramatic and go running home while you stay at work, then I just look like an asshole. It only makes sense if we both go home.”

“Oh, OK. I see what you’re saying,” Mom said, then added, “I’m sorry if I ruined your day.”

“You didn’t ruin my day,” I said, laughing sadly. “Well actually,” I added, “you did ruin my day, but only because I love you and it sucks you have a tumor.”

“I love you too,” she answered. “And I don’t think you’re an asshole.”
“Thanks.”

My mother had been right, she didn’t die that day. But a year later, as I stood in her bedroom door still trying to calm my nerves, I could see the tumor was taking a serious toll on her.

“What happened?” I asked. “All I heard was, ‘can’t breathe’ and then nothing. You scared the shit out of me.”

“She’s OK,” I told Adam as he entered the room behind me. “I think she just got scared.”

She raised a shaky hand and placed a finger over the hole where the tracheotomy tube had been inserted into her neck a few months before. She struggled to form words, trying to cover the hole so I could hear her. “It’s… It was…” She began to fiddle with the trach tube moving it around.

Seeing all was OK, Adam went outside to get the remaining boxes from the truck.

I came to her bedside and tried to move her hand from the tube so I could get a better look. “Don’t touch it. Let me see.”

Mom didn’t listen. She kept her finger where it was, forcing her breath to make the words. “Crooked. Feels crooked.”

“Your trach is crooked?” I asked.

She rested her head back on the pillow and nodded having used up what little energy she had.

I took a closer look. “It doesn’t look crooked.”

Mom glared at me and covered the hole once again. “Crooked.”

“Okay. Okay.” I said. “It feels crooked on the inside, like in your throat?”

She nodded, her eyes indicating with frustration, how many times do I have to repeat myself?

“Do you think I should take it out?” I asked, really hoping she would shake her head no.

Instead, Mom shrugged, as if to say, “Beats the hell out of me.”

The hospital had sent us home with every supply imaginable; I had boxes of new, sterile tracheostomy tubes. The problem was that so far I had only removed and replaced the inner disposable tube. I had never actually switched out the entire mechanism. A nurse had quickly spent five minutes talking me through it before they released my mom into my care, but other than that I was going to have to wing it. I took a deep breath and told myself, I can do thisWhat can be so hard—just take one out and put another back in, right?

I pulled on a pair of hospital gloves and carefully undid the ties that kept the trach securely in place at her neck. I wiggled it a little; it seemed loose enough. Just give it a soft tug, it would slip right out; pop a new one in, tie it off, and I’d be done. Simple.

“Okay, I’m going to take out the old one,” I told her.

Mom shrugged. Go for it.

I pulled gently on the tracheotomy tube; just as I’d hoped, it slid out easily.

“Oh. Okay. Cool. That was easy,” I said, smiling at Mom. I felt quite proud of myself. I tossed the old trach into the trash can. Mom seemed relieved as she inhaled deeply.

And then I watched in horror as flaps of skin growing around the edges of the incision were quickly sucked into the hole blocking her airway. Mom’s eyes grew huge as she realized no air was entering her lungs. I froze, staring at her and thinking, Oh Dear Lord, I’ve just killed my mother. Mom stared back, no doubt thinking, My stupid kid is trying to kill me.

In a moment of complete panic I did the only thing that came to mind: I stuck my index finger into the hole. In all my life I never imagined that my finger would be in my mother’s throat. There had been numerous fantasies throughout the years involving my foot up her ass, but never once did I imagine finger in throat.

I slowly removed my finger and the skin flaps followed, clearing her airway. As long as I held the skin pulled back and open she could breathe easily.

I looked down at her as she took in a deep breath, “It’s OK. It’s cool. We’re cool,” I said, trying to convince myself as much as her.

She nodded.

”It’s OK. It’s OK.” I repeated, visually scanning the room. I couldn’t let go, so I stretched out my free hand, blindly searching for anything that might help. On a low table near the head of the bed, the tips of my fingers were just barely able to reach a small, clear, plastic tube that was meant to go inside the larger tracheostomy tube. I inserted it into the hole; as I did, the skin flaps disappeared back into her neck. Fortunately, she was still able to get air through the tube. Unfortunately, the tube was too small; it was the diameter of a drinking straw. The hole in my mother’s neck was the diameter of a dime. If I let go the smaller tube would slide inside her throat.

“Ah crap!”

Mom looked at me.

“Everything is going to be OK,” I said again.

She nodded calmly.

I was afraid of making anything worse. All I wanted was to sit down and cry. My mother had taken care of me my entire life; now she needed me to step up and return the favor and I was failing miserably. It took everything I had to keep from crying. I wanted her to have faith in me. A bawling, sniveling caretaker does not fill one with confidence. If she could remain calm then, dammit, I needed to pull myself together and do the same.

The only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t trust myself to go back to the original plan of inserting the new tracheotomy. So, as calmly as I could, I called out for help. “Adam? Hey, Adam.”

He poked his head in the door a moment later. “Hey.”

“Could you do me a favor,” I said, “and call 911?”

He looked worried. Ten minutes earlier everything was fine. “What’s going on?”

I explained the recent events and he left the room to make the call. After a few minutes I could hear him banging around in the living room. “What are you doing out there?” I shouted.

“Trying to clear a path through all the moving boxes, so they can get in,” he yelled back.

Mom and I looked at each other. Made sense. “Thank you,” I called out.

It wasn’t long before we heard the sirens approaching. The lights through the window splashed the walls with red. A moment later, eight huge firefighters crowded into my mother’s small bedroom and gathered around her bed looking at the two of us.

One of the firemen stepped forward. I assumed he was the captain because he was older and had a clipboard. He may have been an EMT, who knows. All I knew was, he was the only one saying anything. “What seems to be the trouble?” he asked.

“I took out her tracheotomy and then she couldn’t breathe.”

He scrunched his brow and cocked his head, suspicious—probably questioning if it was, in fact, me who should be examined. “Why would you do that?” he asked in a very deliberate tone.

I took a deep breath and raced through the explanation. “It was crooked, so I was trying to change it, but when I took it out,” I said, pointing, “See these two flaps of skin? They were sucked into the hole, so I grabbed this tube because it was the only thing I could reach and I stuck that in the hole. But now if I let go, it will slide down her throat. When she takes a breath I feel it pulling, so I can’t let go.” I exhaled hard.

The firemen exchanged glances, then looked at me. Mom and I looked at each other then back at them. I guess they were expecting me to elaborate, but that’s all I had.

Finally the captain broke the awkward silence. He bypassed me and spoke directly to my mother, “Ma’am are you OK?”

She smiled and nodded. I was starting to get the feeling she was enjoying the attention.

“Without her trach, she can’t speak,” I sighed, feeling incredibly stupid and very small.

The captain looked back at me. “Well, she seems to be doing OK otherwise. Do you have the other trach?”

“Yes,” I said pointing to a large box on the other side of the room. “There’s a bunch in there.”

A young, fresh-faced fireman, who couldn’t have been more than twenty, reached into the box and pulled out a package containing a tracheostomy. He handed it to the captain.

He turned the package over in his hands, then looked back at me. “So what do you need me to do?”

“Um… put it in?” I replied, not understanding why he would ask such a ridiculous question.

He shoved the package at me, “Oh, I can’t do that.”

I pushed it back, “Of course you can.”

“No. I can’t.”

Mom’s eyes followed the pushing of the box like a tennis match.

“Why not? You’re the fireman.” I reminded him.

“Yeah, but I don’t know anything about this. Are you her fulltime caregiver?”

“Yeah.”

“Then you know more about it than we do.”

“No. I don’t. Clearly,” I said, indicating the situation, “I’m not qualified.”

“Well, the only other choice is take her to the emergency room like this. You can ride in the ambulance and hold the tube. Then they can put a new one in at the hospital.”

I shook my head with disbelief. I was petrified of making the situation worse, but felt backed into a corner. I was the one who screwed it up so I would have to fix it. “Okay fine.” I said, “I’ll do it.” I looked at Mom and asked, “Are you OK with that?”

She shrugged and nodded.

The captain put on gloves while I opened the package. I made a mental note: perhaps I should have done this first.

“OK, what do you need me to do?” he asked.

“When I pull this tube out, I need you to poke your finger in the hole and kind of wiggle those flaps of skin—”

“How about if I just hold the tube?” He said, cutting me off with a smile.

The absurdity of the situation made me smile as well. I nervously joked, “Fine, ya big chicken, I’ll do the hard part.”

I shifted to the other side so he could hold the tube.

“I guess, just take it out slowly,” I said as the other firemen crowded around, leaning in to get a better look. My hands shook as he started to remove the tube, but I was able to work the sides of the hole and ease the skin out along with it.

“Okay… um… hold these pieces of skin back so the hole stays open.”

The captain did as I asked. I took the tracheotomy out of the package, mentally said a quick prayer: Please dear God, don’t let me fuck this up; then asked Mom, “You ready?”

She nodded, encouraging me with her eyes. If she was scared she didn’t show it. I tried to be as brave as she was, but my trembling hands gave me away. I took a deep breath and held it while slowly sliding the curved end of the trach into the hole and down her throat. The captain released the flaps of skin. When I felt it was all the way in, I slowly held up my hands, stepped back, and asked Mom, “Does that feel OK?”

She reached up to cover the hole and answered, “You did good.”

It felt as if the entire room exhaled with relief. I wasted no time in excusing myself to the bathroom down the hall. Once there, I shut the door behind me and, using a towel to cover my mouth, sobbed as quietly as I could. My entire body shook with fear at what I had done. I was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t catch my breath. My mother was the one who was always strong and calm in a crisis. Not me. This was supposed to be her job. I was just the kid. A thirty-four year old kid, but still a kid, her kid.

I heard a light knock on the door. Adam asked, “Jonna, are you OK?”

I exhaled slowly, pulling myself together the best I could before answering, “Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll be right out.”

After everyone had gone and the excitement died down, the house was still and quiet. I pulled a chair next to my mother’s bed. I could see she was tired. We both were. She looked into my eyes and I couldn’t hold back the tears as I whispered, “I am so sorry.”

I covered my face with my hands and pressed my forehead to the edge of her bed. Then I felt her hand gently rubbing the top of my head, telling me everything was OK. It was a lie, of course. Nothing was OK. She was dying and we both knew it. But no matter how sick she was, or what little time she had left, she was still the mother and I was the daughter that needed comforting.

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