Karl-Anthony Towns’ mother Jacqueline had been in a medically induced coma for weeks but was turning a corner in her battle with COVID-19.
Doctors were preparing to bring her out of the coma, and while Towns didn’t want to get too excited, he was hopeful.
Then he got a call from his father Karl Sr., and Towns could sense something was off. His father usually communicated with the family as a group and not individually. This was a direct call to Towns. The news wasn’t good -- Jacqueline had a stroke.
“He was just like, 'She's gone. She had a stroke during the night and she's gone.' I said, 'Has she taken a step back? What's the next step?' Because in my mind, I'm just thinking about [next] steps,” Towns said. “He had just told me those doctors thought there was no way for meaningful life from her after this stroke.”
In a video that premiered on his YouTube channel Monday night, Towns for the first time discussed in detail with interviewer Natalie Manuel Lee the struggle he and his family went through as he watched his mom die of COVID-19 on April 13.
After Jacqueline’s stroke, Towns said he had to make the decision eventually to remove her from life support.
“It just got to a point where it was harming her,” Towns said as he fought back tears. “I gave her all the time, and I made the hardest decision you can make. I called my sister, I told her the decision I made was. You've got to live with that. I made that decision.”
What followed after that was phone calls to other family members to let them know the news. Among the hardest for Towns to make was to his grandmother.
“She was just going hysterical,” Towns said. “That was the most difficult call for me, because there is nothing worse than losing your kid. I told that to many people after. I said, 'I will never have a pain like that again, but I will say there is no pain that measures up to losing your mom, but if I lost my kid, I'd be devastated.' ”
When Towns made the call to take Jacqueline off life support, his family was all on a group chat saying their goodbyes to Jacqueline remotely as she died. They were telling stories and laughing when they found out Jacqueline had officially taken her last breath.
“She took her last breath -- with laughter,” Towns said. “There was no other way Jackie would've wanted it. She didn't want people to cry for her, she wanted people to laugh. She was sent off with laughter.”
Towns hasn’t said anything publicly about that time in the nearly seven months since. He detailed the tumultuous time, which had some hope that she would recover before ultimately her condition worsened.
When Jacqueline was diagnosed with COVID, Towns revealed the diagnosis in another video in March asking for people to take coronavirus seriously. Towns hasn’t done any formal interviews until now.
“My kids get to meet her through me, because I am the most like her of anyone,” Towns said. “It was a tough time. It’s still tough.”
Towns said Jacqueline’s previous medical history made her susceptible to serious complications from COVID, but she and Towns' father both contracted it as the disease initially spread through the U.S. in March.
Doctors put Jacqueline in a coma in the hopes of stabilizing her and before they did that, Towns said he had an emotional conversation with her.
“I remember she just told me ‘I’m so sorry if I ever did anything that didn’t make you proud of me as a mom,’ ” Towns said. “I said, ‘No stop talking like that. Don’t talk like that to me. You’re going to be just fine. You’re going to go in, you’re going to be in a coma just for a little bit. They’re going to bring you back out and you’re going to be just as good as new and we’ll talk and laugh about this situation and feel even closer.’ ”
Towns said in the time since, he can become emotional at random times thinking about his mother. That grieving is a non-linear process
“There’s a lot of adjectives you could use for emotions but for me I just know when people ask me how you’re doing, it’s a day-by-day thing. I just don’t know,” Towns said. “I don’t know what the next day holds for me. I just know that right now I got to keep it together and try to find the smile and fun in life.”
That, he said, is essential for those around him.
“Trying to take care of my friends and I’m trying to heal myself through them,” Towns said. “It’s helped, but I think that one day, and I know it’s creeping up, I feel it every day, it’s gonna creep up and I’m going to have to find a way to deal with it, actually. That’s why I wanted to do this [interview]. I thought this would be therapeutic for me to admit that these things are real and how I feel is real and being able to try to find some normalcy. Life is a game and I’m just playing one chess piece at a time.”