By Amber Soha

Originally published by cc&d magazine at

 I walked into that room, and saw her face, and I knew. I’ve seen it before, on different faces, in different places. Death.

We sat down, and held her hand, and listened to the doctor speak. My eyes welled while he asked his questions. I stared at her, not listening, because I already knew the answers. “She’ll never wake up.”

The doctor left, “I’ll give you some time to think about it.” I didn’t need time for that. I needed time for everything else that was unfinished.

My husband turns to me and begins asking questions, “Have you ever seen this?”

“Yes. Many, many times.” I don’t go any further because I don’t want it to be true.

“What does this mean?” His red, puffy eyes were pleading with me to give him something to cling to.

“This is what we call actively dying.” I’m trying to maintain my composure because I don’t want anyone to think I’m too emotional to do what she trusted me to do.


“I have to talk to you about something,” she told me over the phone.

“Okay,” I said.

“You’re my emergency contact. I don’t want my sons to get a call telling them their mother is dead,” she explained. I understood, but she continued. “I hate to place this burden on someone so young, but I need someone who will be able to make a logical decision on my behalf.”

“What do you mean?”

“In the event that I can’t make my own decisions, you’re the person who’s going to decide whether or not to pull the plug.”


“Have you ever seen anyone wake up? I mean, can someone come back from… this?”

“I’ve been a CNA for ten years, and I’ve seen many, many people get to this point. I’ve never seen anyone come back. I’ve heard stories of people snapping out of it, briefly, but this always ends in death.”

We sat, I holding her hand, and he, talking to her, “I love you, mom. I’m right here with you.”

His brothers came back into the room, and the youngest was crying, while the middle kept saying, “wake up, mum. Wake UP, mum. WAKE UP, mum.” He was trying to shake her, as if she were simply sleeping and not dying.

The doctor came back into the room, just to check on us, and give us more information. Maintaining the resuscitation order was futile. She said futile many times in the hour she sat with us. “I’ll come back in an hour,” she said. “You still have some time to make your decision.” She was really saying she didn’t want to be forceful; she knew what was happening, but her sons still had hope.

I thought it was so strange because just a few hours ago I was on the phone with my husband trying to make the choice of whether or not she should go to rehab. It was an ethical dilemma then; she wanted to fight the cancer but going to a facility meant being quarantined for two weeks, and her doctor didn’t believe she had that long. I was baking banana bread and trying to listen to my audiobook, but I couldn’t really hear it through the emotional barrier. The decision to be made had changed in a flash; ICU or DNR.

I didn’t want to take the choice away from her sons, so I kept quiet while they talked it over. Comfort measures. “What does that mean?” they asked when the doctor came back.

“It means we’ll reposition her every two hours to keep her from getting uncomfortable; we’ll give her medication to help with her secretions; we’ll give her pain medicine, but we won’t intervene if her heart stops.”

“How will you know if she’s in pain?”

At this point, I started helping the doctor explain how things would proceed from there, and the youngest brother stepped out of the room because it was too painful for him to listen. DNR.

For the rest of the night we watched the monitors, overanalyzing the numbers and beeping—her life signs—and stepped out of the way when the nurses came in to care for her. Mom.

A graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington, Amber Soha holds a degree in English, creative writing, and editing and publishing. She works as a freelance editor, and when she’s not working, she’s caring for a growing family or spending time with her duck


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