As a kid, I was a loner. I don’t recall much teasing or bullying, just isolation. I wished for friends, but my interests (anything to do with science) were so different from the interests of most other girls (clothes, music, gossip) that I didn’t know how to talk to them. So I talked to Mom.
Mom loved history, politics and baseball. She rooted for the hapless Chicago Cubs for 80 years. She wasn’t particularly interested in science, but she was happy to talk about anything I liked. Anything I did, she applauded. She loved these columns.
Mom was more a mother to my daughter than I was. I started medical school when Alison was 6. A lot of moms might have been resentful, but not mine. She was proud of me. Anything I wanted, mom wanted for me. She made medical school possible.
During the last several years, Mom’s health failed. She had severe back pain from arthritis and found it increasingly hard to get around. She had a series of small strokes. The stairs in the home she’d shared with my father for 50 years became difficult for her – and dangerous.
That’s why I retired when I did.
My parents sold their home, and I sold mine. We bought a winter house in Florida and another in Maryland near my daughter. Mom thought it would be wonderful to be close to both of us again.
Six weeks after we arrived in Maryland, Mom had another stroke. This one left her weak on the right side. She couldn’t dress herself, comb her hair or get to the bathroom without help.
Mom told me she didn’t want to be a burden. She said she hoped she would have the courage, if therapy didn’t help, to stop eating and drinking.
The second morning after Mom came home from the hospital, Dad emerged from their room alone. “She’s still sleeping,” he said. “I didn’t want to bother her. Go see what you think.”
I’ve heard that story lots of times, and I knew what it meant: Mom was in a coma.
“She didn’t take any pills, did she?” I asked Dad.
“God, I hope not.”
I checked. No pills were missing. This time Mom had a major stroke, and she died that evening.
Mom hadn’t seen a Maryland doctor outside the hospital, so her death was investigated by the medical examiner.
The medical examiner’s investigator wasn’t suspicious. He wrote down the names of Mom’s prescriptions but didn’t confiscate or even count the pills – as I would have.
As a medical examiner, I believe it’s important to recognize suicide and categorize death accurately. As a daughter, I don’t care about such things.
It’s hypocritical and hard for me to admit, but if a bunch of pills had been missing, I wouldn’t have told Dad. I’d have ditched the bottle, and when the medical examiner’s investigator came, I wouldn’t have said a thing.
No one would ever have known.
email@example.com. Dr. Carol J. Huser, a forensic pathologist, served as La Plata County coroner from 2003-12. She now lives in Florida and Maryland.