When they wheeled him in, the doctors said it was already too late. They put him on an iron lung, and the only thing left to do was let his mother decide on his organs.
He was young, good-looking, tall and strapping, face beat up from meth. His mother had given him countless chances and a free bed, but he had relapsed every time, back to the muse and to back alley corners and then crawling home again. His mom finally kicked him out. Shortly after, he found one of those hideouts to do his meth in peace. He fell down a flight of stairs. Traumatic brain injury. A brawl, possibly. Someone had called an ambulance and left him there.
The only thing the hospital could do was stuff him full of tubes to keep him breathing. There was no brain activity. His head was held by a neck brace the size of an oven and his bed was a mess of angry plastic tentacles, sprouting and twisting in veiny stubborn circles. I could still tell that underneath all the life support, he was a handsome kid.
In the waiting room, his mom kept blaming herself.
“Just one more time, I could’ve let him stay. He wasn’t getting better, I mean, what could I do? I couldn’t do it anymore, his eyes were just gone, he was already gone. But I could’ve one more time.”
We brought her up to the ICU. She saw her son and folded in half. I had to look away. It was too much to bear, to see the love of a mother who had to say goodbye to her child, and not even really.
She stroked his chest as it was rising and falling with the tide of the respirator; she wept over his tubes and his arms and his face; she finally grabbed at his shirt and kept saying, “Sorry, I’m sorry, I would one more time, I would.” It had ended so badly. They had said terrible words. She thought she was doing the right thing. How could she know? She loved him enough to set him free, but only love could hurt this much.
I was back and forth in the ICU all day. The mother was still there each time, sometimes crying, sometimes staring at the wall.
The rest of the family trickled in. We went over the release of body form. I hated this part. They couldn’t afford a proper funeral, so we also went over funding options. The form asked, “Was he in college? Was he working? Was he in the military?” The mother replied softly: No, no, no.
She slumped more and more behind the table and her look just killed me. She had wished for something better, every dream she had prayed over her womb to every extended hand for a prodigal son come home, and every part of me wanted to scream her son awake and reach back to one-more-time and mend these shards somehow, but I had seen into the irrevocable darkness and knew that life is unfair and time is relentless and pain is the price you must pay to love so deeply. Still, we have to try anyway, and love anyway, and dream anyway, to the best of our limited ability, whether things will or won’t work out, and we learn to make something of the pieces.
After eleven hours, the mother finally decided.
“Unplug it. Use every organ. It’s okay. I’m okay.”
One by one, the family said their goodbyes. We prayed. We prayed for the family to have room to grieve, to weep, to let go of blame. We prayed for the organs to be used wisely, that it might be a small hint of good in the midst of so much hurt. We prayed for God’s mercy to receive a soul who had never known peace in this life, but would know it now. We prayed that he would finally be set free.
I told him I was sorry. I said goodbye. I wish I could have one more time.
[Names and details have been altered for privacy.]