Around 3:00 PM on Thursday, November 15, my mom was at work when she started to feel a tightness in her chest. Such incidents had become common occurrences since her heart surgery six years earlier, so a co-worker called my dad and he rushed to the school and took her to a nearby emergency room.
In the past, this would have been followed by a serious of tests that would have shown nothing was really wrong and my mom would end up back at home the next day. But that afternoon she made it just a few steps into the building before she collapsed. A team of nurses and doctors descended on her and began to perform CPR. They could not find a pulse. They battled heroically to get her heart started again and succeeded after 18 long minutes.
I was watching TV as this was happening. A telephone call broke my reverie. It was a nurse from the emergency room, who explained to me that my mom was “very ill” and that my father wanted me to contact my brother. She gave me no details of what had happened. Seconds after I hung up, my father called to tell me she was being transferred to the cardiac unit of a different hospital and he would pick me up along the way there. We arrived together at the hospital at 5:00 PM.
Two hours later I found myself sitting in a “quiet room” with my father, brother and other relatives. A doctor came in. She was about my age -- maybe younger -- and her face was framed by one of the most colorful and beautiful hijabs I’ve ever seen. She told us what she believed happened, but she couldn’t be completely sure since to perform the necessary tests would require time my mom simply didn’t have to spare. She wasn’t getting enough oxygen to her brain and every second we spent waiting meant risking permanent brain damage. For this reason, she requested that my mom be transferred to another hospital for immediate emergency surgery.
She was very honest and direct with us and said -- with an audible catch in her throat -- that there was a very good chance my mom would not survive the trip, much less the surgery.
As we waited for my mom to be taken to the “super-ambulance,” I sat there in a state of semi-shock and felt the weight of my iPhone as it sat in my jacket pocket. I was surrounded by my family, but it wasn’t enough. My world was shattering and I needed all of the support I could get and I desperately wanted to take out my phone and tell everyone on Twitter what was happening.
A part of me hated myself for even indulging the thought of this. My mother was dying and I wanted to fucking tweet about it? What the fucking fuck was wrong with me? Can’t anything be private anymore? Must I share everything that happens to me with the Internet? But as much as I chastised myself for it, I felt helpless to the compulsion and reached into my pocket, grabbed my phone and tweeted:
After I hit send, I set my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and waited. It didn’t take long as a list of shocked and concerned responses filled up my screen. At once I was filled with regret over making this imposition. Who was I to bum everyone out on a quiet Thursday night? But the fact that they cared to respond at all made me feel a little less trapped in a room filled with family members whose despair equaled my own.
About an hour and 15 minutes later we were all sitting in another “quiet room” when I left another message:
I didn’t know it yet, but by the time I sent this, my mom had already been dead for nine minutes. The doctor who told us was extraordinarily professional and kind. He sat with his back to me as he faced my father, who was doing everything he could not to shatter into a thousand pieces.
He told us that she did not suffer and that he believed the Wendy Mott we knew and loved had ceased to be following those first 18 minutes she spent without a pulse. Even if they had performed a miracle and gotten her heart working at regular capacity again, she wouldn’t have been the same person we were all now weeping for.
I always thought I would never be able to stop crying the moment this happened, but my tears did not come out in loud, howling sobs. They just arrived in a steady, quiet mist, while I sat stunned and immobile. I don’t remember doing it, but at some point I reached for my phone once again and wrote:
The rest of the night is a blur. I spent long parts of it desperately trying to remember the last thing I ever said to her, but it was so trivial and unimportant my memory had refused to record it. She knew I loved her, but when was the last time I told her? I couldn’t remember that either.
When I got home, there was little I could do but sit numbly in front of my computer and reread the messages people had sent. So much kindness, yet I had no idea what was going to come.
The next day was the most profound lesson in community I’ve ever had. As friends and family paid their respects at my parents’ home, the Internet as I know it came together to remind me that even in the deepest possible sadness there can be laughter, meaning and joy.
It started with emails from Caitlyn (@dinosaurdisco), a young Los Angeles actress who was once indirectly responsible for the most bizarre coincidence I’ve ever experienced (there’s no time to discuss it here, but if anyone asks in the comments, I’ll be happy to tell it there). The night before she had sent me a message saying she was available to distract me anyway she could -- including terrible crayon drawings. I took her up on this offer and she delivered with 9 works of art that made me laugh with genuine amusement as I wiped away tears of gratitude. This one was my favorite:
I tweeted several of Caitlyn’s pictures and they inspired Eva [@edotwoods] to send some drawings of her own. In a previous tweet, she had asked if I wanted her to make other people as unhappy as I was and I responded by telling her to try and make them happier instead. This was her amazing response:
Not everyone is an artist, so Dana (@dana_WHAT) -- my Twitter sister from another mister -- improvised with a sharpie and her amazing (and adorable) rubber face and sent me this pic:
But out of all the responses [including two very lovely emails from Marisa (@MarisaSaysTweets) and Tyler (@TFDorholt), and a candlelight vigil by Lindsey (@KeefnerL)] the one that impacted me the most was a series of direct messages sent to me by Adrienne (@raulduke72), which I’m posting here with her permission:
This one hit me the hardest because it was the first to remind me just how many amazing connections I’d made over the course of this year. It was at this moment when I realized how different it would have been if my mom had died just a year earlier. The love and support that was being sent my way would have only been a tiny fraction of what it was and I could directly attribute its existence to one source.
Jane loves to joke about creating a “Cult of xoJane”, but when I think about why people join such organizations -- the sense of community, purpose and belonging that they bring -- it occurs to me that she’s already done it and I serve as an example of the power it can have to help heal and make it through the worst of times. In the past year, I’ve come into contact with people who understand and appreciate me in ways I never thought possible. People who care.
The irony is this: I will make it through what has now officially become the worst year of my life, because up to that one life-changing moment, it has been one of the best.
The feeling is mutual, Jane. I love you all.