In another week it shall be New Year's Eve. I dread that night, as I have for more years than I care to remember. On another December 31 a long time ago I awoke that day looking forward to a party my husband and I had been invited to. It was the first time since we had become parents of what were now 9 and 6-year-old girls that we had a babysitter lined up for that evening.
My telephone rang at about 10 a.m. It was my father telling me not to get upset, but my mom was in the hospital. She had awakened that morning and said she didn't feel right and asked him to call a doctor. I must preface this by telling you that our family did not have a family doctor, or at least my parents did not. No one in my immediate family got sick, we weren't allowed to. Don't laugh -- we were conditioned by my mom's attitude that we did not get sick. Even when we somehow got the usual childhood diseases -- e.g., measles, mumps, etc. -- her first question always was, "How did you get it?" It was just not part of our lives.
Until that day, I don't recall my mom ever having anything worse than a headache or a cold in the nose. Never had she spent a day lying in bed sick. I mean never in her 64 years had she been ill. My dad, two years older, had never missed a day of work. My brother and I had also never missed a day of school, other than from those childhood diseases we couldn't avoid getting from all the other kids.
My husband, the girls and I quickly got dressed and rushed to the Caledonia hospital in Brooklyn. My folks had moved to Brooklyn about two years earlier. I found my mom lying in a room unattended. She assured us that she just felt like she had indigestion, or maybe it was a stomach virus. Even though the doctor my dad had found in their neighborhood had said he thought she might have had a slight heart attack we, who had no knowledge of illness or heart attacks, were happy to believe her. We stayed with her until she shooed us out, and we assured her we'd return for evening hours.
We called the hosts of the party we were to attend and assured them that we would be there, albeit late, as we wouldn't leave the hospital until visiting hours were over. We got to the hospital and found my mom basically the same. Not one doctor had been in to see her for the entire day. It seemed that they were very shorthanded due to the holiday. We kept asking the one nurse we saw how we could contact her doctor, and got very little out of her. When a buzzer announced the end of visiting hours, my mom again told us to leave. I remember her saying, "I'm not afraid to die," and I looked at her as though she were crazy and assured her she wasn't going to die. She didn't look really sick, and she wasn't in pain, or at least she didn't profess to be in pain.
I turned from her bed to get my coat and when I turned back I heard a sound I had never heard before, yet I knew instinctively what I was hearing. I cried out "Mom," and rushed back to her. My dad seemed to know what I meant because he looked at mom and quickly and so pathetically, instinctively began breathing into her mouth.
My husband ran into the corridor looking for help. All he found was a frightened nurse who didn't know where they kept the oxygen. In retrospect this was ridiculous, since oxygen was not what my mother needed. She needed a doctor. Only one doctor was on duty in that entire hospital and he was in the emergency room sewing up some drunk's cut hand.
I have since learned so much more about heart attacks. Throughout the ensuing years I lived with a man with a very serious heart condition. I knew what to do each time he needed help and I knew which hospital to take him to so that he would get the best help possible. In today's world, in a proper hospital, my mom might have had more years of life. No one knows for sure, but wouldn't it have been wonderful for her to see her grandchildren grow up, to even see her great-grandchildren? She never had the pleasure.
And so on New Year's Eve I prefer to pay homage to her my own way. If I had known that night she was going to leave us, I would have kissed her, hugged her and told her I loved her. I didn't, because it truly never dawned on me that this was her last night.
So every New Year's Eve I think of all those I love and have loved, and I never want to live in regret again.
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