An Open Letter to Jahi McMath’s Family

Image Courtesy of Piyaphon, published on 18 May 2011, from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Image Courtesy of Piyaphon, published on 18 May 2011, from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Jahi McMath underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital Oakland, and suffered catastrophic and fatal complications. This medical tragedy has spawned controversy because Jahi’s family refuses to take her off life support. I decided to write an open letter to her loved ones and to the public about finding the courage to let go, by sharing my own experience. My son was born eight weeks premature due to a placenta abruption and he suffered severe brain damage from lack of oxygen to the brain. He lived for six weeks and I, too, had to make a nightmarish decision to pull the plug.

Dear Loved Ones of Jahi McMath,

As a mother, my heart breaks for you. The national scrutiny you’re experiencing because of a choice to keep your child on life support and the horror of watching her waste away must be almost too much for a soul to bear. I will never understand the extent of your pain, but I can somewhat relate. I had to make a difficult choice to end life support for my newborn son, after I was told he was beyond healing and help. It was and is the most painful and scary thing I had to do – to make a choice to end my son’s life. As painful and as tragic as it was, it was the most loving thing I could do for him.

I know the pain you feel. The nagging envy you feel when other patients make miraculous recoveries in other hospital beds, leaving you and your child behind, prayers unanswered. The rhythmic swoosh of the breathing machines, the comforting beep of the cardiac machines, the panic that sets in when an alarm tolls, and the relief when you realize it is for another patient – I know it all. I know the anger and hatred towards the medical personnel and I know the compassion of other parents in my situation and the tireless nurses who comforts when the doctors leave with their dire prognosis. I know the helplessness of not being able to save my child. I know the guilt – oh, the guilt.

I am still haunted by the day when the case manager led me to a small conference room in the hospital near the neonatal intensive care unit. After six weeks, and days and nights practically living in the hospital, I was now going to the bowels of that old building, a corner, I’d never been to before. I’d pace the halls when the doctors had to fix his feeding tubes or asked me to leave while they performed a medical procedure and was too preoccupied to ever notice that small room.

The case manager told me it was okay to cry. Why did I need to cry? I thought that meeting was to discuss ways to keep my son alive, instead, it was a meeting with Kaiser Hospital’s top medical professionals arguing their case as to why my son would not be alive without ventilators and that his organs were starting to shut down. I looked in my ex’s face and could see the specialists had already convinced him. I knew I was the only one that did not know…what everyone else in the room knew – my son was going to die in less than a week from that fateful day. They needed my permission to sign the “Do Not Resuscitate” order. Through sobs, screaming, cursing and backing into the tightest corner of the room, I finally surrendered and signed the order.

My son, Devin Alexander Comer was born April 5, 2000, and was called home on May 18, 2000. He died in my arms at 2 AM, and my ex and I drove home before dawn, once I composed myself enough to drive. The sun’s rays cresting over the Sierras was the only piece of humanity I could hold onto, experiencing this most beautiful scene in the darkest moment of my life.

I never felt more disconnected, yet connected and dependent on the human race until I went through that life changing moment. I was vulnerable, alone, yet surrounded by family, friends and strangers that supported me through it all.

I write to you to say, your baby is here! She’s in the highest spirit form and she’s all among us now, just like my baby. She’s where no pain can grip her. She belongs to God, always have. You were chosen to be her mother while she was on this earth, and you did a fine job – I can tell by the beautiful smiles on all the pictures. By holding on to her physical body, you are not loving the part that is eternal and very real. None of us are in a position to judge you, but I am in a position to say that you will get through this, and one day you will meet your baby again in the spirit world.

I pray for peace and serenity for your family during this most difficult time. I ask all of us to raise your family up in prayer and to remember this physical life is fleeting, but our souls are eternal. 

My deepest condolences,  

Kimberly Jo Cooley

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