As a baby loss mom, it was hard for me to watch. He was only 31, diagnosed with leukemia 9 months ago, an only child. We asked his mother to make the most difficult decision of her life. I turned off the pressors, respiratory decreased his FiO2 to 21%, his rate to 4 bpms.
It only took two hours. His mother was standing with her arms around me when his heartrate hit 0, his EKG rhythm a flat line. She begin to shriek, and writhe, and flail her arms and legs. I jumped back out of the way. She fell to the ground and thrashed with everything she had. It took two large guys, members of their family who were present, to get her to her feet. A few minutes later, she was covered in sweat and hyperventilating. We brought her ice water, told her to breathe in, breathe out, big deep breaths.
I said to her, "this is the worst feeling you will ever have, this is as bad as anyone anything can ever feel."
An intern said to her, "you ended his suffering, you took his pain onto yourself so that he wouldn't feel it." A perfect thing to say to a mother.
We rarely have such physical grief reactions, we are rarely witness to keening or loud displays of emotion. I guess that's just the majority of our culture. We wait until we are alone, in private, to break down and punch and kick and scream.
I'm glad she didn't wait. Her reaction was the purest, rawest form of the worst of the worst kinds of grief and loss. I wish everyone could express their emotions so accurately, and in the moment of their peak poignancy.