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By the time the blood vessel burst in the back of my dad’s brain, my nine siblings and I had multiplied to a mob of in-laws and twenty-three grandkids. We clogged the waiting room as we paced, switching from seat to seat, talking to one another and making sure our mom was okay.

Our dad had been transferred for surgery from the local ER after he collapsed in the middle of the night at home while trying to get an aspirin for a terrible headache. Early that morning a few of us gathered around him as he lay unconscious in bed at the first hospital while a Catholic priest performed Last Rites.

We agreed to let the doctors operate to remove the blood in the back of brain because it could reduce the pressure. Though he could die while on the table, the outcome could be the same without the procedure, too. As we held hands and said The Lord’s Prayer, we prayed we were making the right choice and the preparation for death was only cautionary.

As we weighed our options before coming to our decision, we talked briefly about what he would want to do but couldn’t say with any certainty. We never thought about having to choose between life and death. My mom and he hadn’t had any discussions about what they would want to do if a time like this ever came. They had signed no documents stating their wishes. We only had instinct. We said, “Of course.”

As the hours dragged on in the waiting room, we repeated the day’s events, recycled our questions and fears. We had the same conversations, even with the same people, again and again throughout the day.

Medical personnel were overwhelmed as they tried to find my mom in the massive crowd to relay small bits of good news from inside the operating room. We passed their tidbits around, breathing air on them, sparking more hope. We tried to make sense and create a new story.

We didn’t know how it would end. We waited.

Catherine Lanser
Madison, Wisconsin