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September 3rd, 2016
With everyone arriving in Redding and needing to be with Dana, I stayed at the hotel, mostly in the jacuzzi.
My husband was there, so for the first time, I had the chance to simply breathe and be in the moment and not feel the constant hum in the back of my head from needing to be alert to the kids.
We were having the “family meeting” that day, the one in which Dana’s doctors were going to tell Dana’s entire family what was going on. I was not looking forward to it.
I remember sitting in that hot tub and staring at the same rust-red wall that I had become accustomed to looking at as I sat in that space, and I remember feeling so empty.
We all went to the hospital.
We assembled in a medium sized room, around a huge table. My mom, my dad. All of Dana’s kids. Toni, Dana’s second wife and her support team.
Since Dana did not have a will and since he and Toni were still married, she had the legal authority for him and his estate. That fact worried most of us. With Dana’s health insurance still unsettled, she was responsible for the debt, and that could go into the millions with a 3-week ICU stay (so far) and multiple surgeries, the air lift there from Arcata. But there was also the very worrisome fact that a person with whom Dana had not wanted to be married to anymore was now able to decide on whether or not we should keep life support systems running. That’s not even considering her mental instability.
It was deeply disconcerting.
The doctors came and told us how all of Dana’s organs were failing, how they could not discern any brain activity whatsoever. On and on they went, this and that thing, their lips kept moving with their stream of speech.
I remember my dad asked some question in his wonderfully dignified, “listen to me because I am wise and smart” way, I remember the doctors picked up on that and responded in the, “oh! You sound wise and smart! I will treat you accordingly!” way. I remember the air-conditioner coldness in the room.
I remember how Dana’s kids’ faces, stances and energy broke my heart more than anything. Oh, those kids deserved none of this, none of this.
I remember there was a conversation between Toni and Yu Han, Dana’s eldest daughter, who was leading Dana’s kids. I don’t remember what the conversation was about, but I do clearly remember Toni saying that she wanted to do what Dana’s kids would want to do, that she wanted to be able to come back to Blue Lake and to be actually welcome there. She was stressing a peaceful relationship over all else, she was saying that she wanted to power and make legal the wishes of Dana’s.
This was a relief to us all.
Later events though, had me replaying that conversation, and wondering who or what inspired her in the moment. Was that really how she felt? And did later, others inspire her to try – as she would – and sue Dana’s kids and estate for every penny they had? I don’t know; I just know that she tried to break them a few short months later.
Back to the meeting on September 3rd.
The doctors were urging us to remove Dana’s life support. I don’t remember how we wrapped up the meeting, I just remember it ending and us all leaving.
Many of us made our way back to the hotel, many of us stayed in the ICU.
I remember this:
My kids, conking out at the restaurant next to the hotel.
And I will never forget the waitress coming to us and asking for our orders and mom getting kind of kerflummoxed by the questions. The waitress was kind, and I thought what a reminder that was to always, always be kinder than you think necessary.
You never know when you are talking to a mother who is deciding if she should take her only son off of life support.
I was still thinking Dana was going to make it.
Organ failure, brain inactivity – all of that, just seemed like an extreme experience that our hero was going to overcome and, in that final hour of everyone’s desperation and sorrow, he would return, triumphant!
The very first inkling that I had that he might not actually make it was from this exchange with my friend, Fiona, who had lost her own brother who had also been in a coma:
I hadn’t heard of another hero not making it.
This was the first time that I remember feeling an inkling of the thought that he might not come out of this alive.
A sliver of doubt, genuine uncertainty, straight in my heart.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.