They lie you know, when they say time heals all.
Time can make it a bit easier, but some wounds are always like an abscess of the soul that can never be properly drained and cleaned and healed. There are days where things are a blur I don’t bother to focus on. But the sounds of Sept 4, 2009 still echoes ugly at the strangest time.
I remember the call, only minutes after cousin Wanda’s morning report of “he slept well.” Jenn the nurse, briskly and efficiently taking the phone away from Wanda’s second call. “He’s going now. You don’t have to hurry, he’ll be gone before you get here and I’ll have him cleaned up for you.” Time of call 10:15. Time of death 10:20. A quiet exit stage left while no one was looking. So odd for someone who had tethered the spotlight to always follow him.
I remember leaving the office, flying down the subway stairs and looking at TTC driver’s face as he was closing the door to the train…and reopened them. I remember the train ride being the most silent ever, as people entering the train hushed in radiating waves.
Quiet murmurs of pity were seeing – yet pretending not to – slow tears and snot leaking across my face, lost as I was in the mantra in my mind “don’t die yet. Wait. Don’t die yet.”
I’m stalking towards the hospital, cigarette casually flicked at human obstacles and snarling at anything human or vehicular that dared clog my path. I hit the security door of the hospital as it was closing, with enough force to make it boom, making security jump. Two elevators, one on service and the other not descending. The cleaner on the elevator turns with a smile of apology that vanishes into realization. “Oh I’m so sorry.”
“Where are the stairs, please?” Don’t say you’re sorry. No.
“End of the hall,” says a voice behind me. Howard: palliative ward day nurse. “Unlock the door,” he orders security.
“Thank you, Howard.” I can hear myself saying. So damn polite. The end of the world ends so damn politely.
Security doors are buzzed open. My knees shriek protest as I rip up six floors’ worth stairs, two sets of stairs for each floor. I don’t care. I nearly crash into the single nurse on the floor who I despise, the homophobic bitch who made the mistake of yelling at me in front of my sedated mate three days prior. (He had raised his fist at her, profanity spewing uncontrolled, and her trying to argue she doesn’t have to put up with that. Another nurse had to take her aside and read her beads: “That’s his husband. Also his father and brother are watching. So you are a fucking idiot that you tell someone that they can’t disturb a sedated patient and try to argue with that sedated patient!”)
Definitely don’t care. She yells a protest of my running that is frozen by her colleagues’ collective stares and the duty nurse thundering down the hall to tell her to shut up, stay at that end of the hall, and if they weren’t short staffed already, she’d be sent home.
Only when I see my cousin’s face mirroring the ill emptiness within me can I acknowledge the presence of someone else in the world.
I can hear the other nurses whispering and weeping at the station behind me. In our 18 days of being there, they have witnessed something not often seen. There has always been someone here with him 24/7. I have been here every night after work with the puppies. I have climbed upon his hospital bed for a cuddle. I have taken him out for a drink whenever he liked, to make his life as normal as it can be when it isn’t normal. I let him hold me as tight as he could without touching him back hardly at all, for fear of disturbing the myriad of lumps in his back and ribs under thin flesh that send waves of pain throughout his body. There are many others here in that time who have died alone, not one person to visit. How could I not be here? This is my love.
Over Wanda’s shoulder, I see my love’s flesh-anchor to this world, so still, so frail and so devoid of the essence of him. I watch his chest under a crisp linen sheet, hold my breath and will to see him breathe once more until I am forced to take a breath myself, and then as I step forward, I know truth.
Love lies dead before me.
I give into my knees’ smug demand to go down, and braced on all fours against cold sterile linoleum, forehead just touching a hand that will no longer fluff my hair, pull my ear or touch my face, I give Voice to Grief.
The first sob is a roundhouse kick into my cousin’s gut as she is stopped mid-movement from trying to touch me, and to offer comfort. The second backs her out of the room, her own wail a keening counterpart. The third is a headwind that buffets the first nurse who enters the room, and then nurse Jenn comes to try and gently bully me to a quieter state for the sake of those others dying nearby, and their loved ones who are gathering for their own deathwatches.
“He wouldn’t want you to cry for him. He’s free of all that pain. He loved you so much.” Jenn says, tugging me up and into a chair, offering to get a ginger ale. But she doesn’t understand. I’m not crying for him. I’m crying for me.
I cry because love is dead; my soul is now split asunder; my world is shattered. I cry with the heaving sustained, bewildered grief of a toddler being away from his mommy for the first time ever, and not having the words to express this feeling of loss and abandonment.
The only person I know in my heart who loves me completely and unconditionally for no reason except he chooses to is gone, and suddenly realizing this is more painful than all the hate and hurt that I shielded him from this past year and 18 days.
I send that sound of loss after his spirit, because he might come back, and then and only then as that odd thought breaks through do I quell my selfishness and will myself to quiet because I do not want his beautiful spirit to come back into his tumor-laced shell that has tortured him for far too long.
And even when the volume subsides, as I bury my face against the mattress I shudder deeply, each breathe moving the wheeled hospital bed. Because God is cruel in giving me everything I ever prayed for, then taking it away so quickly, leaving only this cooling homunculus in its place
I cry because for the first time in over year I do not have to be strong for anyone else. I only had strength while he was here needing it and now I am nothing. Because now uncaring I can let loose all the terrible dark things crammed into me like Pandora’s box, except this time, hope takes flight first.
Hope lives only while there is life, and life is gone.
Thus emptied, I let logic take over; make calls and summon the others of The Family, the chosen kin. There is crying, and I don’t know my role: do I comfort? I have no comfort. Person after person surrounding me with their presence, their touch. I never have felt more alone than in that moment in a room full friends’ freely proffered love that cannot fill what had just fled this room. (It comforts now, but oh, in that moment…)
A nurse suggests that the dogs should be here to know and share the grief, and Wanda runs to the apartment to get Roxie.
Nurses are wanting to offer me platitudes that I very politely accepted. (Love lies dead.) Thanking them for their work. (Love lies.)
Signing the paperwork. (Lies dead.)
More paperwork. (Dead.)
A little blond powder-puff puppy arrives and is watched collectively by a room, as she slowly walks up the bed to sniff a cold face, and runs back down to jump into my arms (thus ending a question of ownership).
“Alright people, the dog knows he isn’t here, it’s time we move on too. Let’s get this room packed up, say our good byes, and let the nurses do what they need.” Stefan, voice of reason.
We leave a cold body behind, each of us trying to put a name to the collective void.
Oh, how I wish it was that easy to leave the grief behind as we did your body, but to do that would mean to forget you, my love. A voice to grief? No. Only the most primal howling hymn to love, which one does not know until loss.