March 12, 2005 I was scheduled to work a double shift at Red Lobster. My nephew was born the week before and had become ill, and was in the ICU. I was in town from college and was wanting to go see him. I asked a friend to cover my 2nd shift so I could head up the hospital for a visit.
I left work armed with some food, still 8 years later I remember what it was, a Lobster Pizza, and Shrimp cocktail. I got into my car, put the bag of food in the back seat and dug out my phone from under my seat. There were a few missed calls from my step-dad which I found odd, he'd left a message so I quickly checked it. "Amber, please pick up, please pick up, I think your mom had a stroke", he screamed into my voice mail. In that moment time stood still. The cars passing by me, in my still parked car, were moving in slow motion. Every thing stopped. I called him back screaming and he shouted the name of the hospital they were taking her to and hung up, I could hear the team of paramedics working on my mom in the background.
I was only a few minutes away from where she was headed, I called my brother and let him know what was going on, thankfully he was close too. On the 5 minute trip to the hospital I screamed, and begged God to save her, to not let it be true, to wake up from this horrible nightmare. I screamed so loudly I was hoarse by the time I got to the hospital. When I pulled in I realized I was the first one there. My step dad came running from the parking lot at the same time I could hear the scream of the sirens from the ambulance that carried my mom.
My oldest brother showed up and we went to work trying to get a hold of our other brother, who at the time had no cell phone, and was going on a trip to the river for spring break. Thankfully, my dad and step-mom took the lead on that and got to work finding a way to pick him up.
Heading into the ER my family was immediately put into a private waiting room, a Chaplin came in and it became all too real how dire the situation was. My aunts who lived close came and they along with my brothers, my step-dad, and myself sat in complete silence waiting for what felt like an eternity. We were ushered back to see my mom while the nurses looked on with the saddest look in their eyes, they knew something I didn't know. We went into the spacious room that was full of machines working to keep my mom alive. The doctor explained that the paramedics had a heartbeat while they were in the ambulance but it was weak, and as they brought her into the ER she stopped breathing on her own. He went on and on speaking in medical terms that I had no idea what they meant. All I kept hearing through everything was, "At this time there is no brain activity." I didn't believe him. My mom was the most full of life person I'd ever known, there was no way within 1 hour she was gone, void of life completely. I was holding her hand and noticed her wedding ring, I had just watched a special on TV the week before about people who lose important jewelry while in the hospital. I insisted he take it off and give it to me, so I could keep up with it for her, she'd be mad if it got lost. Her fingers were already so swollen the doctor had to use Vaseline to get them off.
My brother and I left the room and headed straight outside. I thought I was going to be sick and started dry heaving on the side of the hospital. I then started frantically making calls to anyone, everyone, I needed the entire world to be praying. I tried without success to get a hold of Clayton, he was in a production at our college and did not have his cell phone on him, and with his truck broken down a way to get to me. I was lost, I needed him, and he had no idea.
We were told there was nothing more they could do at that hospital, but one 30 minutes up the road had much better technology and could possibly help my mom. She was loaded up in to the ambulance as my family followed behind her. I remember making light of the situation with my sister in law. I was telling her we'd get to the next hospital and she'd be sitting up in bed telling us all to chill out and get a beer. I talked back and forth with my dad, he was on his way to get my brother, he was meeting half way and trying as hard as he could to get back to the hospital before the inevitable happened. My dad had a grasp on the reality of the situation and I was doing all I could to avoid it.
Once again we were ushered to a private waiting room, a bigger one this time. Another Chaplin came to sit with us, it was starting to set in how bad this was. We were told we could go back and see her, one at a time. I remember walking, following the dreaded red line taped to the floor that would lead me to the ER, to my mom. I stood at the end of her make shift room, all four curtains were drawn, giving a sense of privacy, while the nurses looked on with nothing but sadness in their eyes again. I worked my way around all the tubing and wires that where keeping her alive. There was a rhythmic beeping from the IV and then a whoosh from the ventilator, seconds later her lungs would rise and fall, as they were being forced to breath for her. I ran my fingers through her hair and worked on memorizing her every detail. I smelled her, kissed her forehead and cheek and whispered in her ear, "Mom, I know you can hear me. Please wake up, mom, please wake up." I needed her I was a baby at 19 years old, I was not ready to say goodbye. I felt small again and wanted nothing more than to crawl up into her bed and have her wrap her arms around me and tell me it was going to be ok. I laid my head on her chest and sobbed.
Walking back outside I was greeted with so many family and friends I was astounded. So many people loved my mom, so many. I was sitting on the side walk making more phone calls, I needed all the prayer warriors I could get. I spotted a group of guys walking towards me, and quickly realized they were my brothers childhood friends. Guys I considered to be my brothers and who considered my mom theirs. I jumped up to greet them and my knees buckled I hit the concrete while the weight of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. They helped me up and cried right along with me, she had been a rock for so many of us.
My dad called and informed me he was around the corner with my brother and we needed to be ready. My brother was a mess, completely devastated. It took him awhile before he was ready to go back and see my mom. My oldest brother and I took him back, breaking the one visitor rule, the nurses never trying to stop us. We stood around her bed and let the sobs rock through our bodies, we were finally all together with her, and yet she wasn't really there anymore. We went back to the waiting room, that was now standing room only, to wait for any new news. We knew there was no brain activity up to this point but there was just one more test to be ran, maybe there was hope after all. The doctor came in, everyone in the room stood, he took off his scrub cap and said, "I am sorry. There was a massive brain bleed in the center of her brain, it is inoperable. She had no brain activity, and there is nothing we can do, I am sorry." He turned and walked out of the room taking all the air with him. I screamed, being held up by my dad, I let all the pain come out screaming over and over again into his chest. He held me crying with me telling me he was so sorry.
We all got to go see her one last time and tell her our goodbyes, my brothers and I took a lock of her hair to save. As we turned to leave we saw a line of people waiting to say their goodbyes that stretched for as far as we could see. Everyone's eyes puffy and red, yet dazed. We could not believe the once vibrant, full of life Fran was gone, in an instant.
My soon to be mother in law met me at the door on my way out, offering to take me home. I had cried so much my vision was blurred and I was thankful to have her love and support. She let me know Clayton was finally able to get home and would be waiting for me when I got there. I felt horrible for him, he loved my mom as much as I did and was 3 hours away during the whole ordeal, feeling completely helpless. When I finally made way into his arms I cried until I was so weak I fell asleep. He stayed with me throughout the night as the nightmare of the day would jolt me awake and I would scream out in agony. She was my best friend and mom, without her I felt completely lost, and shattered into a million pieces.