‘Promise Me’

‘Joe, promise me. Promise me right now that if I ever get that bad, you will not let me suffer.’
I remember the moment as if it was 5 minutes ago. My mother and I had just left the hospital, visiting my grandfather, her dad, who was in the hospital battling Alzheimer’s and pneumonia. At the time, one of the doctors called it the worst case of Alzheimer’s he had ever seen.
“Promise me Joe, you won’t let me suffer.‘
I remember thinking, OK Mom, I get it, I won’t let you suffer. Why? Cause you will live forever. That is what moms do. They live forever.
Two years ago today, I told the doctor to stop giving my mom medicine that kept her alive. She was gone in about 12 hours. She was also stricken with Alzheimer’s and had COPD, which kept filling up her lungs and they kept pumping the fluid out.
She was suffering. Badly.
‘Promise me Joe, you won’t let me suffer. When the time comes, just let me go. It will be OK.’
I remember pulling my brother to the side and saying, I have had enough. I can’t do it. I can’t watch her like this anymore. This is not what mom wanted. I didn’t know what to expect his answer would be, but it was, ‘I agree.’ We both walked back in and told the doc, stop it.
It was time to say goodbye.
You see, Alzheimer’s did not kill my mom, the COPD did. Alzheimer’s took my mom away. Quickly and without mercy.
She remembered me only half the time. That was OK.
She forgot the names of my kids. That was not OK.
She forgot certain times and moments. That was OK.
She remembered things from 30 years ago, like they were happening right then. That was OK.
She was not my mom anymore. That was not OK.
As I told the doc what we wanted to do, I kissed her head, whispered in her ear, ‘I am sorry,’ and left the nursing home and got in my car.
I cried for 30 minutes.
‘Promise me. You won’t let me suffer. Promise me.’
‘Promise me. You won’t let me suffer. Promise me.’
I also had to work that day. I had to work. Not because I was being forced to work. I couldn’t sit there and watch her die. I had been watching her die for a year. Mom had told people for years, before she got sick. ‘Joe is very strong. He doesn’t like death and won’t handle this well.’ And I thought, “Whatever! I am a big man, I can handle anything. Anything that can come my way.”
Moms are never wrong.
I arrived back at the nursing home at 11 that night. The nurse said, ‘she has a strong heart. But you did the right thing.’
I was lying in the bed next to her when she passed away at 3:30 a.m. on June 27th.
My sister had just left, she had been there all day, and my brother was just outside, restless and walking around.
‘Promise me. You won’t let me suffer.’
I kept that promise to my mother.
It is the promise that keeps me up almost every night.
It is the promise that wakes me up, almost every single morning, at 2:22. Why that time? I have no damn clue. But it does.
It is the promise that I said would be no problem to keep for my mom.
And it was both the easiest and most difficult decision of my life.
I kept that promise to her because of one thing.
I did it because I have the promise that one day, I will see her again.

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