From what we can see from the physical evidence, this is what happened: Mom was smoking with her oxygen running (though she had tossed the nasal cannula aside while she had her cigarette) and she probably dozed off and dropped the cigarette on the floor. The cigarette was laying on top of her oxygen hose. It burned through the hose and ignited and burned about 8 feet of the hose itself, along with parts of the carpeting beneath the hose. It was probably sending out blue flames and some pretty noxious fumes due to the melted plastic and carpeting. She was trying to get to her oxygen machine to turn it off but she had grown progressively weaker over the last few weeks (and my guess is her blood sugar was very low, she's had a lot of trouble with crashing lately) and she went down. The "official" cause of death was listed as heart attack because her heart wasn't beating when the paramedics got there, but it may have actually been caused by smoke inhalation or even her blood sugar going too low. My brother in law was the one who found her. He tried to resuscitate her (he heard her sternum crack when he tried to do CPR) but he wasn't successful. The paramedics arrived pretty quickly (my brother was one of them) and they took over the resuscitation efforts without success. She was pronounced dead at the emergency room.
I have thought a lot about how horrible those last few moments of her life were. She was declining in health quite a bit and there were times she had said she was ready to go, but all the same, it must have been terrifying to see the fire and the smoke. Since she could barely walk a few steps without being out of breath it must have been quite an ordeal to get halfway to her oxygen machine before she collapsed. I don't know if she was already unconscious or if she lost consciousness once she was down. She couldn't speak long without a coughing fit, and I can well imagine how the noxious smoke from the fire must have affected her.
I was able to see her for a short while before she was taken away to the crematorium. She may have had a terrifying last few moments on earth, but in death she looked peaceful, so that helped. She was wearing one of those muumuu's that she loved to wear, and a bed jacket. I felt her cheek and because my fingers were so cold she actually felt warm to the touch. I stroked her upper arm through the blanket they had used to cover her, and it felt the same as when I used to stroke her arm after kissing her goodnight. I kept expecting her to take a breath because she really did look like she was sleeping, but of course the deep, cleansing breath never came.
It's a comfort to know that she is no longer in pain and she is able to move about the same as she could when she was a young girl. She can see again, and I'm sure she's happy about being reunited with so many members of her family. I can imagine there have been some happy reunions for her with people she has loved, like her best friend who drowned when she was a young girl. And I'm happy for her about that, but at the same time I feel sorry for myself.
As we were going through the old pictures of her life, there were so many where she was young and vital and beautiful. The sad thing is that smoking slowly robbed her of every pleasure she had. She didn't get to do any of the things she had planned to do after she retired because her health was so poor, and nearly all of her health problems were attributed or at least made worse by smoking. But now she can do all the fishing she wants, and she can read and do crossword puzzles to her heart's content.
I still have my mother's birthday message on my cell phone voice mail. Goodbye, little Mommy. I love you and I'll miss you.