From Life to Death

By Irina Pino

My mother.

HAVANA TIMES – It’s been very hard for me to write about my mother’s passing, just a few days ago. She was in intensive care at the Calixto Garcia hospital. She was admitted because she was diagnosed with pulmonary edema and bronchopneumonia, as well as having suffered a heart attack.

Close relatives and friends went to get the doctor’s update every day, and to see her very briefly in the morning. She had an oxygen mask on and was being administered antibiotics intravenously. She was in critical condition.

During one of those updates, the doctor who was looking after her case called us together to ask if we wanted to put her on a mechanical ventilator, explaining beforehand that she wouldn’t make it, that it was a losing battle.

The entire family agreed not to put her on the breathing machine, but when she was moved to another room, the doctors decided to hook her up anyway, in spite of there being a document signed by my brother that refused this practice.

Then we were told that they had to intubate her because she was suffocating to death. She couldn’t breathe on her own and her neurological functions were beginning to fail.

The breathing machine might help in an aseptic environment, in a private room where only medical personnel had access. Not in a room full of patients with different ailments, with the constant coming and going of medical staff and visitors.

Germs in hospitals weaken the patient, and they end up dying. My mother managed to make it nine days. Her organs stopped functioning.

Other patients who were hooked up to breathing machines passed away there before her.

The doctors on call insisted that they did everything they could to save her, but that her heart was old, and her defeated body couldn’t make it. She was 89 years old.

During one of my visits, I spoke to her, prayed, as a kind of farewell. She looked at me and smiled as best she could, with the unease of the intubation that reached her trachea.

My mother with my father and a niece.

Thinking back now, what was all this torture for? The person is kept like a hostage, with their arms tied and without any way to communicate. Sedatives were administered to keep her calm. She couldn’t ask for us to let her die in peace.

Dying is a complicated matter. Possible funeral homes are contacted at a hospital department that deals with all of the deceased’s papers. There wasn’t anything available at that time, some were closed. My nephew had to go to the funeral home on Zapata and 2nd streets, in Vedado, to try and sort it out himself.

There, he was told that hearses leave a base, pass by hospital morgues and transport the body to the funeral home. This could take three hours because of fuel shortages. They only had one hearse.

Hours passed by, the hearse took longer to take the body, than the wake, mass at the chapel and the burial in the cemetery.

The flowers were beautiful, they were ordered from a private business. The funeral home’s flower wreath service doesn’t guarantee transport, so relatives need to go to the florist themselves.

I believe that this is why people turn to cremation, so as to avoid all of this madness.

I remembered US television series “Six Feet Under”, where the family ran an excellent service at their funeral home. A beautiful ceremony was organized to honor the dead according to the lives they had led on Earth. There is no respect here.

I have been sad and a little lost, because looking after my mother used to take up hours of my everyday. I look for things to do, but there is an emptiness inside of me that is impossible to fill, an image that I can’t forget: the image of her suffering in that hospital room.

I wonder what was going through her mind, while she was being held to that bed, surrounded by strangers.

It was all so sudden. My mother always said that she wanted to pass away at home, not in a hospital. That petrified her. My father died in a hospital and she couldn’t see him; only later, once he was inside a box.

I have to adapt to this change, do things, although missing her is inevitable.

I’m consoled by the words of a dear friend, who said that the body is just a shell, that energy is never destroyed, and that thoughts and the spirit are reincarnated. Life to death is just the transition of one plane of existence to another.

Irina Pino

Irina Pino: I was born in the middle of shortages in those sixties that marked so many patterns in the world. Although I currently live in Miramar, I miss the city center with its cinemas and theaters, and the bohemian atmosphere of Old Havana, where I often go. Writing is the essential thing in my life, be it poetry, fiction or articles, a communion of ideas that identifies me. With my family and my friends, I get my share of happiness.

5 thoughts on “From Life to Death

  • I am still memorizing my life with my mother. I hear her voice and opinions about everything that comes through the senses. But I agree that time as it pass by us help us rationalize the loss of ‘ a ser querido.’ I also remember other intimate family members and friends and judge the interactions between us. It’s historical memories no doubt. And lets not forget that we too will be history one day.

    Reply
  • Sorry to read your sad news, Irina. Your mother’s spirit lives on both in your memory but also in her children and grandchildren.

    Reply
  • Thank you for this fine piece of writing.

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  • Irina, your writing is so poignant and haunting, in the same way that death of a loved one is haunted and full of complicated emotions. We become helpless as we observe a medical system that tries to save a life at all costs. Those costs are then transferred to the family who are likely to be grieving and not thinking clearly at the time of the passing. How strange to have the last day of a person’s life be void of humanity or healing rituals of some sort with an excess of machinery even when clearly not wanted. Those close to the person should not be forbidden from a kinder process.
    I have read that the suffering of Christ on the cross is what brought about the barbaric and traumatic practices and suffering that we are each supposed to endure in the present day. It’s time to change these practices with more humane treatment. We put our animals “to sleep” at the veterinarian’s office in the USA when they begin the dying process. Why can’t we be as considerate and respectful and dignified with our loved ones?

    Reply

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