By Adrian Molina
When the phone rang and my father told me my mom had suffered a heart attack, there was no hesitation. I booked my ticket from Miami to Buenos Aires within the next few minutes, and in less than 24 hours I was by her side holding her hand. I still remember how her eyes got big with emotion when she saw I was there. She wasn’t expecting to see me until December, when we had planned her semi-annual visit to Miami.
What I thought was going to be a relatively simple recovery from a heart attack and bypass surgery became a month in the ICU and a seemingly endless series of complications which led to her death in the early hours of October 18th — the very same day that her own mother had passed away 14 years earlier.
My mom wasn’t the type of person who liked to be alone, not even to walk alone to get groceries. She was a people person. She raised two children, two grandchildren, and to some extent her nephew and her nephew’s children. She was the matriarch who held the family together. She didn’t have a lot of friends, outside of our family. She had one dear friend to whom she talked every day. She also had her sister whom she loved dearly, and also talked to several times a day. She was a source of love, warmth and care to the ones near her — even to my ex-husband and myself, living so far away.
As the years went by, she became slower and more sedentary. Although she was just 73, if you looked at her physical state and the way she walked, you might be forgiven for thinking she was 83. We insisted time and again that she should start exercising and get out of the house more often — but she didn’t do it, or she couldn’t, because she didn’t know how to. She spent more and more time at home and rarely left the house, except for her semi-annual visits to us in the U.S.
Those trips for her meant everything. She sprang to life and became a different person. Suddenly she wanted to walk and shop and engage with the world. Although she loved everyone back home in Argentina, I know that if we had invited her to stay permanently, she wouldn’t have hesitated. Not because the quality of life in the U.S. was different or better, but because my mom and I got along so well. We understood each other, in a way that was sometimes annoying because there was no escape from it. We could angrily call each other out on our B.S., and then five minutes later be hugging like nothing ever happened. My ex-husband was at first baffled and a bit alarmed by these mother & son swings of emotion, but eventually he came to understand that it was just the way we showed our love to each other.
About a year before her passing, my mom visited us in Miami, and she was so much changed from the previous visit a couple of years earlier. She looked sad and physically tired, and had problems with her balance. She fell a few times, but nothing serious happened. Well, except for the time when we were at the beach, in water that was just above our knees, and she started listing to one side. She couldn’t catch her balance, and I had to run over and catch her and lift her up to keep her from drowning in shallow water. Even she knew then that her body was beginning to fail her, and she cried out of fear and frustration and probably some embarrassment.
Beyond the physical decline of her body, during that visit she carried upon her shoulders a gloomy and dark mood. We soon discovered that my dad wanted a divorce and he was seeing another woman. The last part of that trip was relatively joyless and tainted with sadness and worry: what would happen now in her life, in my father’s life, in my life?
My mom returned to Buenos Aires to a house that was too large for her alone, and in a sad state of disrepair. My dad went with his new girlfriend and I was left trying to understand how it was possible to separate from someone by choice, in old age, after being together 40 years.
I have a good relationship with my father, and he is not a villain in this story. He was with my mom most of his life. And I can imagine that his decision at that time was not an easy one. But the reality was that he was unhappy, and his own health was fragile. He had a series of inexplicable seizures in which he would lose consciousness and fall, once or twice striking his head on nearby tables or objects. I knew he loved my mom dearly. But I understood that they weren’t happy together. Neither of them. And since the moment they separated he hasn’t had another seizure.
Nonetheless, in the wake of my parents’ divorce, I spiraled into a serious depression.
And my mom seemed to do the same, for reasons of her own. Her only pillar was family, and at 73 years old she was left to stay alone, in a house that was too large for her to maintain, and too full of memories from the past. She became secluded, depressed, and she abandoned herself. In a way it’s not surprising that the primary cause of her passing was heart related. She was heart-broken.
If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t take her situation at that time more seriously. I assumed that she was simply going through heartache and she would recover from it. I wish I had been more proactive with her and her health in her last year. I have to forgive myself, as I know I was struggling my own well being, and my own major episode of depression. I don’t actually know what I could have done for her. But I still wish I had done something more.
The entire month I spent in Buenos Aires by her side was an ordeal that grew more complex by the day. I learned soon after arriving that her insurance company didn’t want to cover the expenses of her surgery and treatment. I immediately took legal action with lawyers, and even contacted the national ministry of health. I ended up not only managing her healthcare, but waging a war to ensure that she even had healthcare.
I kept this all secret from her, so she wouldn’t have one more thing to worry about. Each time I entered her room I had to take a deep breath so that none of those worries would enter with me and I could be fully present with her.
And I took upon myself the task of cleaning up and beautifying her house in preparation for her return. This was no small task. After years of neglect, the house had black mold growing on the walls, and a long list of problems that needed immediate repair. And not the kind of repairs that I could do myself. We’re talking about demolition and construction.
Fortunately, my ex and a loving aunt helped me with all of this. Between us we managed her hospital visits in the ICU while I was dealing with lawyers and plumbers and painters. Within a couple of weeks, the house started to come alive again, and look really nice. But as the house became alive, my mom began to experience more complications.
After a very successful triple bypass surgery on her heart, she began to have blood clots lodging in her lungs, followed by a touch of pneumonia, creating problems with oxygen saturation in her blood. Then they found a tumor in her bladder, which led to complications with her kidneys and finally to dialysis. No matter how much we wanted her to hold on, it was as if her body was sending a clear message: “This is it. One way or another, I’m done.”
As the house began to shine and feel cozy and warm with the colors of paint and decor that my husband carefully selected, my mom’s health complications began to worry her and us, and the hope of a comeback diminished day by day.
During the second week, before her heart surgery, there were a few nights when she was out of the ICU and we got to spent every night together. I had a small couch next to her bed where I would sleep at night. I didn’t actually sleep but was just there for her. I didn’t want to fall asleep in case she needed me.
We woke up very early each morning for her medical exams, and after she was bathed we would use our mala bracelets to repeat affirmations of health and well being. During the day we would listen to inspirational talks or watch videos. We developed something of a routine. We would watch TV at night before I gave her medicine, and then wait for another day.
During that time, my mom and I had conversations about everything: life, marriage, being old, politics. And forgiveness, especially towards my dad. She loved my dad, even when they were apart. My dad continued taking care of her even after they separated. They showed respect and love to each other even after they decided not to be together. I know in my heart how much he loved her. And how much she loved him. They just didn’t work as a couple anymore. And although old age wasn’t the best timing for a separation, some things in life can’t be planned.
During that month I took care of my mom in ways that I never even took care of myself. I did things that I didn’t know I could do. And I began to gradually accept the idea that my mom might not recover from this. I think she was going through the same process.
My ex-husband and I had decided not to show her photos of the redecorated and renovated house, because we wanted her to walk in and see it for herself with fresh eyes after leaving the hospital. But one morning I had the strong urge to show her the photos. She looked at the new decor and was so happy and thankful. But in the back of my mind I knew I was showing her those pictures because she would never see the house again in person.
That night my mom held tightly into my hand and broke down in tears. For the first time her demeanor of hope changed into fear and she admitted that she was scared of dying.
During those nights I stayed with her, I woke up many times to turn her, because she was in pain. One night I helped her turn to face the couch where I was sleeping because her back was aching. She looked lovingly at me, and fell asleep that way. That image is burned in my memory.
The following days brought more surgeries, more procedures, more tests, and more complications. When she was put into an induced coma, I knew there would no longer be time for a proper goodbye. We had entered a new chapter in her life: the last one.
The legal battle continued and was taken to a federal judge, who ruled in our favor. She received a court injunction that ordered the insurance company to pay for her surgery and care in the ICU. My mom was just happy for the excellent care she was receiving from each loving doctor and nurse, but unbeknownst to her, outside her room in the ICU, lawyers, government functionaries, television hosts, and directors of the national ministry of health were all involved in her case.
Only a few things brought comfort to our family during this horrific time, and one of them was knowing that my mom received the best medical attention she could have received, to her last day. We had to fight tooth and nail for it. But she was taken care of, as she deserved. As any human being deserves.
When my mom was induced into a coma and placed on an artificial respirator, we still held out some hope in our minds for a recovery. But then the doctors decided to place her on dialysis because she had stopped eliminating urine properly. I have never seen so many different machines plugged into someone’s body. Although she was unconscious then, I could read my mom’s facial expressions and I knew she wasn’t happy with this additional intervention. It was asking too much of her body, and she didn’t want to fight anymore to survive. I felt that. We all did. I knew that night that my mom wasn’t going to be with us for too long. I went home with an uneasy feeling. I couldn’t stay with her since she was in the ICU and overnight visitors were not allowed.
During the early hours of October 18th she had the first of two heart attacks, and was resuscitated by the doctors. Around 5:00am she had a second, larger one that she couldn’t overcome. She was declared dead at that time.
What happened after that was a mix of a dream, a blur, and in ways, a blessing. My dad took care of making funeral arrangements while I stayed in the room with her alone. I spent time holding her hands, doing reiki, and praying for a smooth transition. That same day we held a service at the funeral home for family to come and see her one last time. I was the first one to be there with my dad. He couldn’t handle being in the room for very long, so I spent the whole afternoon by her side. I knew the pain she went through because I could see it through the make up the morticians had applied. I spent hours praying, holding her hand, and reminding her that it’s okay to let go of the things she had been attached to in this life, that she had our permission for that.
Spending those last few hours with her made a difference for me, and perhaps for her. It might sound crazy to some, but I saw a difference in her facial expressions before and after receiving reiki. The expressions of the pain of her last night on earth were replaced with an expression of peace that was palpable in the room.
My mother gave me many gifts. The gift of life, and the gift of having her all there through my life. And not least, the gift of allowing me to see her passing, and help her through it.
She is everywhere now. She will be remembered by generations of our family for the love that she gave us and how she kept us together.
I am grateful that we were given another month to care for her, to close any open chapters, and to let her know how deeply loved she was so that she could go in peace.
In loving memory of Alicia Raquel Nemerovsky.
Adrian Molina has been teaching yoga continuously since 2004. He is a well-known and respected instructor in Miami and New York, with an extensive worldwide following through his platform and school of yoga, Warrior Flow. Adrian is a writer, massage therapist, Reiki healer, meditation teacher, sound therapist, end-of-life doula, Mental Health First Aid facilitator, and a Kriya yoga practitioner in the lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda. Adrian is recognized for the community building work he does in Miami and New York as founder and executive director of The Warrior Flow Foundation, which brings the benefits of therapeutic and accessible yoga, mindfulness, and stress reduction tools to schools, shelters, hospitals, first responders, and hospice care. _______ Warrior Flow blog highlights leaders and change agents in yoga, movement, mindfulness, mental health, social justice, and community outreach. Subscribe to Warrior Flow TV to receive blogs and other news from Warrior Flow TV. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Warrior Flow TV offers hundreds of classes, including vinyasa yoga, meditation, HIIT, Pilates, barre, full-body workouts, yin yoga, restorative yoga, and much more, all for one low monthly or annual subscription fee. And a portion of every subscription supports The Warrior Flow Foundation. Click here to learn more.