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.



6 replies
  1. Larry Lefferts
    Larry Lefferts says:

    Oh, Brianna:This is so beautifully stated! I am so sorry for your loss! Your Mother must be very proud of how you handled fulfilling her wishes! I know the pain as I held my Mothers hand as she passed into the arms of the Angels. Viv and I were with her at that moment – February 3, 1992 – 7:20am. The legacy and beauty of your Mother lives on through not only donation, it lives on through the incredible work you do to promote donation!You are amazing!Much, much love to you,Larry

  2. Brianna Doby
    Brianna Doby says:

    Thank you for this empathetic comment, Larry! I am so glad this post spoke to you. I wish we didn't share such loss, but I am glad we share this path together. Love to you and yours!

  3. Kat Conn
    Kat Conn says:

    Brianna,Thank you for sharing and reminding us to speak carefully when our acquaintances and loved ones are faced with such a horrible and difficult decision. I do not need to save this page as I will always remember your most elegant words. Your Mother taught you well as you are so clearly a loyal, brave and loving daughter and person.I was happy to see you had an infant son to help you during your recovery period. I believe my late Mom lives on in my daughter.God bless and keep you and your family, Truly,Kat ConnAddendum: My soon-to-be-ex-husband and I are long-time registered organ donors and co-parents of a 15 yo daughter and 12 yo son. We've discussed this decision with them many times in the past, but I know we need to do more. In honor of you and your Mom's story I'm going to prepare our Living Wills and other supporting documents and get them signed and witnessed this week. Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Brianna Doby
    Brianna Doby says:

    What a compassionate comment, Kat. Thank you so much for your kind words. I am so happy that my post inspired you to think about taking that next step of putting documents together that solidify your decisions for your loved ones.I am very grateful that you read and felt moved to reply. It means so much to me! Thank you, thank you, thank you. –Brianna

  5. Tracy Cox
    Tracy Cox says:

    As I read your article, I feel so fortunate that our paths have crossed. It's very hard for others to truly understand the loss of a mother. Their mother is there for every birthday, mother's day, and Christmas. Our hearts ache on those days, and all other days, for what could have been. But instead of dwelling in the sadness, we both have chosen to advocate for the only ray of light in this unfortunate turn of events…donation. I feel like together we can do great things or at the least be able to console each other with the most empathetic hearts. I'm so glad I met you. 🙂

  6. Brianna Doby
    Brianna Doby says:

    What lovely words, and so full of truth! Thank you, Tracy. I will carry you and your mother in my heart always. We are going to do some great things together, I just know it. –Brianna

Comments are closed.