Ahhh, the Caribbean beaches of Costa Rica. What could be better? Sun, sand, coral reefs, mountains tumbling into an azure surf with soft, lapping waves, and no one seemingly in a hurry to get anywhere. I know it sounds tempting, and it can truly be wonderful, but in June of 2015, simply put, I was dazed and confused (that’s for you Zeppelin fans).
Hannah, Kyle, and I were excited to be there, but agitated as well, as my husband and the other two kids were near Atlanta and we really weren’t sure about our futures. We were taking a risk, exploring, considering putting roots down in a country other than America. We had become concerned about many of the events occurring back home and felt like Costa Rica might be worth giving a serious look-see (I do not mean political, per se, but it’s complicated. Perhaps I will post a blog to explain in the future).
I was pretty emotional at that time, so much so that as I look back I realize that Hannah was dying right in front of me and I was too self-absorbed to notice. Once she decided to go spend some time with her dad and found out she was dying, my world blew up. Truthfully, I was feeling overwhelmed with my new life circumstances before the news came. Little did I know!
I left Costa Rica on the first flight possible, and upon arriving in Atlanta, Hannah, Phil (my husband), and I staggered into the most difficult, agonizing journey that I could possibly imagine. The 100 day period that commenced upon receiving the news and concluded when she took her final breath are not fully describable. In fact, there are blurry gaps that I can barely remember, times of checking out to guard my sanity, and moments of gazing into space and questioning my life, my mind, well…everything. Nothing made any sense, nothing added up, and the only thing that did matter was doing all we possibly could to help Hannah find healing.
The medical profession had written her off immediately as too far gone, so we grabbed at basically any and every alternative potentially that we could find (that could be a whole post, or maybe even a slew of them). We were ill-equipped to deal with Hannah’s illness, both emotionally and practically, and we did all we could think of, fighting and scrapping every inch of the way. Looking back, we were pretty much a floundering mess, operating almost exclusively from a place of fear with no idea how to approach this monster we call death. It is the one thing we are all guaranteed to do - die - and the one thing that most of us are afraid of even talking about (this, too, is worthy of another post!).
What can I tell you about those days that would help you see what I witnessed, what I went through? I guess I would start by mentioning that I was stunned by the courage, strength, kindness, and compassion exhibited by Hannah. Truthfully, I’m just stopping with the adjectives to save space, because she simply was amazing in the face of incredible daily pain and almost certain death. I learned that you can be dealt life’s harshest blow and still care more about others than yourself, putting others’ hearts and concerns in the forefront. Hannah never complained. Not once. She smiled and loved everyone around her every step of the way, at least as much as her pain would allow.
Me, hmm, we would need to start with a whole different set of adjectives. I did not handle things so well. That humming phenomena I mentioned in the prior post? That flew up a notch or two and landed on cruise control. I found that the only way I could survive was to put my nose to the grindstone and work my way methodically through each day, dispensing pills, preparing juices and meals, running errands, doing chores…rinse, wash, repeat. By the time I looked up Hannah was gone. And I figured I was, too.
To better grasp the state I was in, I will share how the disease effected my baby as the days and weeks winded down. It is not easy.
WARNING: THIS MAY BE EMOTIONALLY DIFFICULT TO READ - The tumors in her body, in conjunction with the fluid buildup know as edema, caused her abdomen and legs to swell horribly, putting tremendous pressure on her organs and eliciting awful tightness and uncomfortableness in general. The disease also ate away at her muscle tissue and her arms began to whither. Eventually the skin on her face shrunk in so tight that she appeared skeletal, her veins becoming prominent against her skull. And her eyes, those beautiful blue eyes, slowly began to gloss over during the final week or so, though they remained angelic until the end. She slowly faded into a coma, partially at first, and then fully comatose about two days before passing. The final touch, which came a few hours before dying, was what they call the death rattle, a horrific sound that signifies death is near as fluids accumulate in the throat and upper chest.
Why do I mention these excruciatingly difficult circumstances of my daughter’s last weeks? Because my husband and I, and at times her siblings and a couple of close friends, handled almost everything without medical personnel, without any help at all. It was difficult to maintain my sanity. Perhaps I did not.
A thick heavy haze enveloped me after she passed, making it hard to breathe, hard to see, hard to live. To be honest, I was certain that life was over, that if there was to be any joy experienced on this planet, it would be had by others. I would lay on the bed or the floor, didn’t matter which, assume the fetal position, and rock away. Welcome to my new existence.
I did have a few brain cells fighting to assert themselves, thank God, and I sensed them pushing me to get out of the states for the holidays. I obeyed. Hannah died on October 22, 2015, and we boarded a plane for Costa Rica about a month later, the day before Thanksgiving, with a return flight scheduled for sometime in January, no holidays for me. Truthfully, I did not know if I would ever return. To the USA…or to life.