Stop asking me if I pulled the plug.


You know it’s bad news when a neurosurgeon breaks down into tears.

“She’s gone. I’m so sorry.”

But my mother wasn’t gone: she was in that bed, right there.

“She’s not going to have any more good days.”

But she’s right there. She’s not gone. What are you talking about?

“We did all we could. We lost her.”

But…she’s RIGHT HERE. How can you lose her if she’s RIGHT HERE?


But my amazing mother was gone. That’s what a subdural hematoma can do. It can take someone away from you, even when they are right there.

I was one of the lucky ones. My mother had given me her advance directive and medical power of attorney. She had also given me a very stern talking to.  “If I am only alive by technicality–by a machine pumping my lungs–let me go. If I won’t walk, talk, think, or have a good quality of life, let me go. Let me go. Please, promise me you will let me go.”

I am a faithful daughter. I knew what to do, with the neurosurgeon misty-eyed next to me, my infant son in my arms, my mother gone and yet here in a bed.

I let her go.

Removing ventilated support was what my mother wanted me to do, and I protected her end of life decisions, including helping her become an organ, eye, and tissue donor after her passing.

Holding my mother’s hand for the 36 hours between the time we removed the ventilated support and the time it took for her heart to stop changed me forever. I was sure nothing could be worse, or more painful, than bearing witness to that end.

I was wrong. There was something worse.

The only thing worse than standing vigil as my mother’s heart gradually stopped beating was people asking me one horrifying question:

“How did you decide to pull the plug?”

Even typing it makes me feel sick.

I cried every time. Every. Single. Time. Someone. Said. PLUG.


Listening to people talk about Melissa Rivers and her care for her mother is stirring this in me again. Melissa Rivers, I am sure, protected her mother’s end-of-life decisions.

I protected my mother’s end of life decisions. It’s not an outlet and a plug. My mother was a person in this world who made decisions and plans.  My mother told me what care she did *and did not* want in the case of certain medical outcomes. I worked with her medical team, and the local donation organization, to honor and protect her decisions.

If you meet someone who has recently lost a loved one, and you are wondering about how their loved one died, please don’t say the word plug. Here’s what you say instead:

“I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish you solace in this difficult time.”

And if that person was a caregiver to someone, and you know they faced some very tragic and upsetting situations?

“The way you protected and cared for [her/him] was very special.”

Life doesn’t have a plug. Please, take care in how you speak to people who have suffered a tragedy.

As in: Melissa Rivers, I am so sorry for your loss. I wish you solace in this difficult time. The way you cared for your mother was very special. I am so sorry you lost someone so wonderful.

I remember the hard plastic pressing into my chest as I leaned over a hard hospital bed to be closer to my mother. She was gone, here, gone, gone, gone. I touched her hand. I told her: Mama, I love you. You are the best mother in the world. I am your daughter forever. I will let you go, Mama. I will let you go.

And I did.