Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Circus Lights are Dimmed

Shortly before noon today, my dear beautiful mother, Carolyn Clem Braden, peacefully slipped from this world. She was surrounded by her loved ones and I am so honored to have been by her side holding her hand as she left me.

The last two weeks have been the most difficult I hope to ever have in my life. That was when we started nearing the end of our medical options. But she continued to fight. We gave her every chance to rally, but when I saw the chest x-ray from 10 days ago, I knew that she would not win this war. The doctors approached me last week about discontinuing her ventilator support, as this was the only thing keeping her alive. I could not bear the idea, feeling as though I was playing God with her life; deciding whether she was to live or die. After the awful job of sorting through my own feelings and recollecting the conversations I'd had with her about this very scenario, I knew what we needed to do. I was keeping her alive for my own selfish reasons. I didn't want the pain of making the decision. I wanted her to go at a time that she determined and take that burdensome decision away from me. I also had her last response ringing in my heart: she had told me she'd wanted to fight. I was so utterly conflicted by all of these things. But I remembered a conversation we had shortly after her diagnosis. We'd discussed quality of life vs. quantity. These last two weeks she'd been minimally responsive at best and without any quality whatsoever. The vent was the only thing keeping her alive. This is no way for anyone to live.

Earlier this week Gary started to inquire (again) about bringing her home to die. He called respiratory companies, case managers, doctors, any- and everyone to see if this was feasible. But it would be more trauma for her just to get her here and she would die immediately after arriving because her oxygen needs were much greater than anyone could provide. Again, I wanted her here for selfish reasons. I wanted her to be closer to me so I could be with her more.

After much introspection and a conversation with my father, I came to the conclusion that maybe my promise to fight for mom meant more than just fighting to keep her alive. Maybe it meant fighting for her; her wishes; what she would have wanted if she'd had a voice. I know that she would have hated to be languishing away in a hospital bed. She'd fought so hard against this thing, this wretched cancer and in the end it was her lungs that just weren't strong enough. She could never fathom how strong she really was. Such strength in such a little package.

My heart is totally broken, but I'm comforted in knowing that there is no more suffering for her. Gary, Sandra, Aunt Nell and myself were there. We spent time talking to her, praying, and reading sacred words to her. We had beautiful music playing. Music was such a large part of her life. For those of you who weren't lucky enough to know her, she was a accomplished musician. She started playing piano when she was 5 years old and played everything by ear. She also had an incredible singing voice, although I never got to hear her sing in her prime. She often joked that when she had me, she screamed so loud that she could never sing soprano again. But she did still sing.

We will start working on arrangements for her. She expressed her wish to be cremated. We will likely plan some sort of memorial service after the holiday's in Atlanta, her home town. We will reflect on her life and it will have the air of how she lived her life... Easy with a smile and a laugh.


Judy B. Moore said...

My Dear Stephanie, My heart hurts with this news. However, our dear Carolyn is no longer suffering and that is reason to rejoice. Your journey has been remarkable and Carolyn 'is' so proud of you and your family. My love surrounds you at this time and I wish you peace.

With Warmest Memories, Judy Brackett Moore

Walker James Cashon said...

Stephanie, I am so sorry for your loss. Your mom was such a beautiful lady. I am glad that I had the opportunity to know her. You and Gary are in my thoughts and prayers. You have a great guy by your side to help you through this.
Love you,

Anonymous said...

Dearest Stephanie,
It is with an extremely heavy heart that I offer my deepest, deepest sympathy for the loss of your beautiful, strong & courageous Mother. Thank you so much for sharing this very personal and difficult journey (via your circus blog) with all of us. You have both been an amazing inspiration.
Much love & God bless,
Amanda Shannon

dpapathakis said...


My heart goes out to your and your family. She was so lucky to have you. I send love and blessings.


Kelly Corrigan said...

Oh Stephanie, I'm so sorry to hear this. Of course, you did exactly the right thing. There's no doubt about that.

I hope the service does her justice and you can always find someone to talk about her with as the years go on.

Kelly Corrigan

Susan Gall Harrison said...


I am so saddened by your loss. I remember Carolyn's incredible smiling eyes, laugh and zest for life... You must have so many wonderful memories of her. She is not suffering now, and I can imagine her dancing and having fun in Heaven, free from her earthly body able to do everything and anything. You are in my thoughts daily and I am praying for your speedy recovery and through your mourning, a peace of knowing you did so well. Your Mom is surely so proud of you, Steph. You handled everything with such purpose and hope. I want to come to the Memorial Service and participate in the celebration of Carolyn's life. I will continue to check your blog for the date. Love, Susan Gall Harrison

Janet Sandoval said...

My Dear Steph,

So many feelings without the words to express them. Knowing Carolyn, it is clear that you loved and fought and let go in exactly the way and time she would have chosen for herself, had she the strength and ability to do so. It gives me great comfort knowing that she was so fiercely fought for, so greatly respected and so tenderly loved -- and that nothing was left undone. I will think of her often and miss her loving and gentle spirit much -- and look forward to the day I will see her again.

As for you, dear Steph, take good care of yourself. I hope you can always feel the spirit of love energy that your mother left with us and that we now send back to you.

All my love to you and Gary,
Janet Sandoval

Beth said...

Dear Stephanie,
I am so very, very sorry for your loss. I know this has been, quite possibly, the most difficult journey you've had in your life. I'm amazed at your strength, & Gary's, as well. I remember Carolyn as a beautiful, vivacious woman, always full of life, and always turning heads. She will live on in our memories of her. May peace be with you, & may you continue to recover.

With love & hugs,
Beth Jinks (Sandra's sis)

rosehl43 said...

Stephanie, I am not sure you will see this since I see you have not posted anything for some time. I just want to confirm that your mother was the Carolyn Clem I graduated with from Tift College, Forsyth, GA in 1964. I am convinced from the picture that it is, but I wanted your confirmation. We are about to have a 50th reunion at Tift in a couple of weeks, and I would love to share your beautiful story about her. I pray that you are doing well. My email address is