Letting Priscia go


FORTVILLE — It was the accident that took Priscia Rose. Her parents know that.

The roads were slick that December morning, just a week before Christmas. Priscia lived out in the country, off Meridian Road about four miles east of downtown Fortville.

The salt trucks hadn’t made it there yet.

The 22-year-old’s car slid through the stop sign at Meridian Road and State Road 234.

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“Severe shearing of the brain stem” — that’s what the doctors called it. She had suffered a sudden, violent jolt as her car collided with an oncoming pickup truck towing a trailer. Hit so hard it snapped the hitch.

The accident caused the kind of brain damage from which patients don’t recover. One jarring impact, and the petite girl with the big smile was gone.

But Priscia would not die for 39 more days.

As her family waited by her bedside, holding on to hope, Priscia’s little body held on, too.

But it did not improve. Priscia was there, but she was gone.

Doctors likened her brain to a fuse box whose wires had suffered a mighty yank. The lights had all gone out. There was nothing to do but wait.

Might there be a little flicker?

But weeks passed with no improvement. It was modern medicine keeping Priscia alive.

And so, Dick and Priscilla Rose made a decision no parent should ever have to.

They gathered their family. They prayed. They knew.

Loving their daughter meant letting her go.

The hardest truth

Priscia was on her way to work that morning. She enjoyed her job at a local insurance company, where her boss was both mentor and friend.

Her brother, Austin Rose, knew that intersection just down the road from their house was slick. Home from Ball State University on Christmas break, he’d driven it about an hour before Priscia left the house.

Austin Rose was the first to receive the call. He immediately called his mother at work. They were flying Priscia to a hospital by helicopter. An ambulance was too slow; she needed care, and she needed it fast.

Priscilla Rose stopped in her tracks. She knew it was serious when she heard her son’s voice, when he said the words, “She was LifeLined.”

“He said, ‘Please be quiet, don’t interrupt,’” she said. “And then he told me.”

It wasn’t until the fifth day in the hospital that the Rose family learned the extent of Priscia’s condition.

An MRI revealed the injury to her brain stem. At that point, there was nothing to do but wait.

Friends and family members came out in droves. Priscia’s two youngest brothers, Gavin, 14, and Haiden, 12, couldn’t come into her room; there was too much risk of flu.

But they came to the hospital, told their mother to tell their sister they loved her, to get better, to wake up.

Priscilla Rose took pictures of so many of the visitors, hoping one day she would show her daughter how much she was loved.

Visitors shared stories about Priscia, telling her family all kinds of things about the girl lying in the bed. Moments Priscia had made them laugh, made them cry, made a difference.

‘Never be that person’

In the waiting room, the Rose family practically lived alongside other families whose loved ones, too, were hanging in the balance. They shared their stories, their hopes for recovery. And Priscilla Rose began to see the difference between their reality and her daughter’s.

Many talked of recoveries from brain injuries, relayed hopeful updates about gradual progress; but brain injuries and brain stem injuries are not the same.

Priscia’s parents were relentless with their questions for the doctors; they wanted to know everything they could about their daughter’s condition.

Priscia lay oblivious to the flurry of activity.

Family members helped the nurses put an ice blanket on her to bring down the fever. They washed her hair, painted her toenails.

They waited.

By the third week, reality began to set in.

And then a doctor sat down with Priscia’s parents and told them what they already knew: Their daughter would never regain consciousness.

If she did, she’d be but a shadow of who she was.

The doctor pointed to a picture of Priscia, her father remembers.

She was on the beach in Florida on a family vacation, the shutter clicked just as she leaped in the air, arms outstretched, her legs tucked beneath her.

A moment of pure joy captured on film.

“(The doctor) said she would never be that person again,” he said.

‘The most loving choice’

To grieve for a loved one who is taken suddenly is one thing; to watch them inching toward death is something altogether different.

Making the decision to end life support for a loved one whose body is living but whose brain has died is often mired in uncertainty.

Could something more have been done?

The decision can haunt families left wondering whether they made the right choice, said Katherine Murray, chaplain and bereavement coordinator at Hancock Regional Hospital.

But letting someone pass can be the kindest course of action when hope of recovery is lost, Murray said.

There is still hope, Murray explained, but it takes on a different shape.

“We reframe our hope; what are we hoping for?” Murray said. “Maybe instead of hoping for a full recovery, maybe we’re hoping for a peaceful passing.”

It’s one of the most difficult conversations a medical professional can have with a family, said Dr. Mike Fletcher, who specializes in internal medicine at Hancock Regional Hospital.

In the case of a brain injury, much of the body can continue to function; a patient’s eyes might even open, or their arms and legs will move.

But in many cases, all that made them who they are is gone.

Priscia — a tomboy who spent hours out back on the four-wheeler; who loved the feel of the dirt under her feet; who could shoot with the best of them but wouldn’t go hunting because she loved the animals too much — would not return, even if her body survived.

For families, making that connection isn’t always easy.

“They will see that the person is breathing, and the heart is beating,” Fletcher said. “Even though those things are functioning, the chances of any kind of recovery are basically zero.”

Something greater

Priscia’s parents looked down at the girl in the bed — “Prish,” friends called her — and tried to make sense of it all, this limbo between life and death.

“Is she really here?” her mother remembers wondering. “I don’t know.”

When a patient reaches that point, Fletcher steers the conversation to the patient’s own wishes. It makes a difficult decision easier, he said.

“If the person could be sitting here with us, … could look at themselves … what would they tell you they wanted to do?” he said.

The Roses knew; to keep Priscia here would be selfish. Their daughter was too full of life to be imprisoned in a body that no longer reflected her carefree spirit.

It was rare to catch Priscia, a Mt. Vernon High School graduate, without a smile on her face.

Priscia was a paradox, her brothers said; their rough-and-tumble sister loved the outdoors, wasn’t afraid to get messy but never left the house without putting herself together.

Toenails painted. Hair just so.

But Priscia never took life too seriously, her mother said. She’d take her time picking out an outfit for the day but walk out of the house wearing mismatched socks.

She was serious about her family and even more serious about her faith. She loved others the way she believed God loved her, fully and without holding back.

As the end neared for her daughter, Priscilla Rose was a tangle of emotions.

“You pray for God’s will, and at the same time, you want to hang on to her,” she said. “And then you’re angry. You’re angry because she’s gone. And then you start the process of the grieving.”

Removing life support: Fletcher draws on the science, calling it stepping back from a naturally occurring process; Murray draws on the spiritual, calling it trust in something bigger than ourselves.

Both recognize the struggle that can accompany such a choice.

“That idea of not battling, not intervening, not taking every possible action to keep someone going, that’s a hard call to make,” Murray said. “(But) I absolutely feel it’s the most loving choice.”

Priscia entered the hospital Dec. 17.

She died 39 days later on a Sunday morning, her mother by her side.

Pieces of Priscia

Priscia’s room is just how she left it, clothes heaped in haphazard piles, doodles taped to the door.

It all waits in the same familiar spots, like time simply stopped.

A sock monkey hangs playfully above her bed on a shelf scattered with trinkets. A Taylor Swift poster is displayed above her desk.

A pink Bible lies beside her bed.

Priscia was attending Ivy Tech Community College, hoping to make a career in graphic design. On the white board by the door is a calendar, bearing her handwritten reminders. No class Monday. Web design Tuesday.

Going through her daughter’s grinning selfies, snapshot after snapshot still preserved on her cellphone, Priscilla Rose noted that Priscia was always touching the person next to her. Reaching out, letting them know she loved them.

Her bedroom won’t stay this way forever. In time, family members agree they will clear out the room, pack up Priscia’s things and give some of them to others who can use them.

In a way, it feels like sharing Priscia. It feels good, even though it hurts, her mother said.

Some things, though, will never go.

Priscia’s hairbrush, the tangled strands still caught between the bristles, is one item her mother can’t bear to throw away. It feels too much like a piece of her daughter.

Standing in her daughter’s room, Priscilla Rose pulls her zip-up sweatshirt tighter around her; it was Priscia’s.

“People die. All ages,” she said. “It’s not fair when it happens to you.”

Finding a way forward

The Rose family pulled together and leaned on one another, their friends, their church, for support.

So many things are different, with Priscia no longer with them; but others, long-held values that bind them together as family, are unchanged.

Put God first. Treat each other with kindness. Help those who need it.

And in all those things, they will remember the girl they lost.

With the spring, they’ll plant the garden and remember how much Priscia loved the feel of the fresh-plowed dirt in her hands.

In summer, they’ll laugh as they try to manage a family trip without their best vacation planner. They’ll collect shells on the beach like Priscia did so many summers before.

Dick Rose finds comfort in imagining his daughter made whole again, gone home to God.

And he’s thankful for the 22 years he had to love his little girl.

“We’re very blessed to have had her,” he said. “There’s no doubt.”

There will be what-ifs. Those will linger, maybe always.

But Dick and Priscilla Rose say they honor their daughter by moving forward, by instilling in her brothers the same ideals they instilled in her.

And peace will find them, in the quiet moments they look back on a life that touched so many.

“We all have to go some day,” Priscilla Rose said. “I don’t think we look back with regrets. There was just a lot of love.”