Anchorage

My mom died of COVID-19 yesterday

Editor’s note: This piece is adapted from a Dec. 14 Twitter thread written by Michi Shinohara. Shinohara, a physician who lives in Seattle, is the daughter of Rosemary Shinohara, a longtime Anchorage Daily News reporter and editor who retired in 2013. Rosemary Shinohara died in an Anchorage hospital on Dec. 13 of complications caused by the coronavirus.

My mom died yesterday.

She and my dad got COVID-19 almost three weeks ago, maybe from a handyman who came to their house. She had been doing OK up until now, but then had a few rough nights with episodes of severe hypoxia.

The hospital calls and tells me they think she is declining. She is working hard to breathe, and is very anxious. My mom had had chronic lung problems for a while, and this is her worst fear.

Air hunger.

She doesn’t want to be intubated. We talked about this a long time ago, and I feel relieved about that. Still, I question it. Could she live if intubated?

The doctor in me knows it would probably just prolong her suffering. The daughter in me wants to think about it.

I pack for the first flight I have taken in almost a year. I have a hard time deciding what clothing to bring because it’s hard to concentrate. I get my suitcase out and realize that my mom will never get to use the fancy luggage we got her last Christmas.

There are pieces of her everywhere: Books she has left after her visits, some forgotten reading glasses, a birthday card for my son. All these things that irritated me about her yesterday I am grateful for today.

I want to bring some things that will be a comfort to her while she dies. I find some pictures. Some chocolate. My son adds one of his soft stuffed animals for her to cuddle.

A friend brings me a coveted N95 mask for the flight. I have been working for the past nine months as a dermatologist mostly without one. I learn you shouldn’t cry in an N95, it just makes your nose run more. I wonder if this is how my mom feels. Muffled. Claustrophobic.

The airport is busy. I think about how often my mom took this same flight home after she came to visit us. People in line around me are talking about going home for holidays. I overhear a man next to me say he just got back from Vegas. It’s disorienting.

The plane feels crowded even though the middle seats are open. I am grateful for the N95 and my eye protection. I wonder if there is always someone on every flight taking this terrible last trip home?

When I get to the hospital my mom is barely responsive. I am allowed in her room as she transitions to comfort care and is taken off a BiPAP machine. She seems to recognize me and grasps my hand -- my hand that is becoming her hand, gnarled from decades of use.

The morphine helps her air hunger. I tell my dad she is close. He asks “shouldn’t they turn the oxygen up higher? Won’t she wake up again?” I explain it again. Her body is worn out. She doesn’t want the breathing tube and there’s nothing else to do. We need to let her go.

It happens quickly and peacefully. I read to her, play her videos of her grandson giggling, and tell her stories of our trips to Italy and Hawaii. My brother calls and says goodbye. She opens her eyes one last time when I hold a picture of her grandson in front of her.

She stops responding. She starts to have the irregular Cheyne Stokes breathing often seen in people close to death. Then she stops altogether.

My dad and I cry together. I have only seen him cry a few times in my life. I am proud of how he is able to be present with her, and me too. He tells the chaplain and the nurse all about her. She was an award-winning journalist. They met in college. She taught him English.

They give me the stuffed animal back, along with a little piece of chocolate I tucked in for her. She can’t take them with her. I feel irrationally sad she’ll be all alone for this last part.

My dad loads up her things in his car and goes home alone. Three went in, two will walk out. I go back to my hotel room, take a shower, and bag up my clothes from the hospital.

I miss her already. My latte loving, chocoholic, Scrabble playing, writer and journalist, friend, wife, sister, daughter, best of grandmas, mother. I know this is just the beginning of grief.

[Related: Rosemary Shinohara, veteran Alaska journalist, dies of COVID-19]

[The death and burial of our dearest mother and grandmother]




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