Two weeks ago (to the day, in fact), when a really good friend lost a close relative, her Grandfather, I was reminded that Life has a final Destination. Today, I was reminded yet again, when another good friend of mine lost her dear Mother. I, too, have had a number of losses in my past, always a reminder that our Destination is but a mere moment away.
And for whatever reason, this has thrown me back to July 16th, 2009, at 4:00 AM, when I was shaken-awake by my mother and the youngest boy. When I opened my eyes, I knew what had happened, even in my nearly-drunken, hung over state. I knew immediately.
For weeks, I had been told that “today is the day, she won’t make it past tonight.” This became a daily occurrence, to the point that I didn’t believe it anymore, and actually began to wonder if they enjoyed the cruelty of their joke; they didn’t know – how can they tell the fate of someone who’s life is not actually in their hands?
I had stopped going to work, because it was “time.” Every morning, as I woke up in a miserable hangover, I wondered if I would be lying next to the empty hull of my wife. I would turn to feel if she was still warm; her breathing had become so shallow it was almost impossible to tell if she was alive solely from her breath. Invariably, for the last three weeks, she’d still be warm, heart faintly beating, and the hospice nurses apologetically scratching their heads for mis-predicting, yet again, the expected death of my wife.
It didn’t matter, I was still numb. I was numb every morning, and had been for years upon years. The relationship that my wife and I had had deteriorated so badly, that the only way either one of us survived was simply to drink. When she finally got so sick she couldn’t take care of herself, she began to treat me very differently, and once again, I found myself caring deeply for her, but on a different level this time.
We had reached a point where I couldn’t stand to be married to her; I no longer felt the same kind of love I did when I first got together with her. But now, now it went from dislike, distrust, and lack of concern back to a love of compassion, caring, and a deep, longing love for a person that used to be so full of life; a wish for her health so I could have my original and only friend back.
Alas, she was on her death-bed. This I knew, as did she. There was no question. In her feeble state, she once leaned over to me, called my name, and then said, “When I'm gone, you can be with someone again. It’s okay. You’re not bound to me anymore. Please be happy when I leave. I know you, you won't let me go; but you can let go of me. Find happiness, I just want you to be happy.” Still numb, and probably getting more so, I simply replied, “Stop it.” I wish I hadn't told her that. I shouldn’t have told her that – I didn’t have the right to take that moment from her, yet I did.
She would have these brief moments of clarity where she would suddenly, out of no where, just sit up and begin having a conversation, as though nothing had ever happened and she was a-okay. This happened not once, not twice, but on several occasions. Each time I was absolutely positive that all the doctors, caregivers, and hospice nurses were all wrong. Surely she was okay! Look at her! She’s talking to me for Christ’s sake! She’s okay! Only to invariably lay back down, and fall right back into the nearly breathless slumber of stiff sleep – for days.
Very late one evening, during one of these moments of clarity, she shot straight up and insisted that we were late for the Picnic. None of her babbling made much coherent sense, except that she was ready to go. The kids and I convinced her that it was for “tomorrow,” thinking that she would simply settle back into her rigor-mortis like sleep. Because we didn’t know if she would wake up again, we decided to play it safe, and began making plans for an “emergency” family Picnic, just in case she did the unbelievable and came back around again.
The following day, she did just that. We scattered like a marbles dumped from a bucket, everybody going their separate ways. We all knew what we had to do and who to call, and within fifteen minutes, we were ready. Tables were set up, food was set out, and family was on their way to my apartment. She was so excited that morning, I'll never forget her pleasure in knowing the family was getting together again.
She was also very weak. With her shoulders hunched and her head hung low, she stretched a smile across her very jaundice face, ear to ear. I hadn’t seen her that elated in a long time. We all sat around eating and talking to her, and I watched her eat more that day than I had in months on end; she had half a sandwich, and about eight ounces of juice. It felt good to see my only friend up and moving around, even if she was gravely ill.
Once again, I knew the doctors and caregivers and hospice nurses were all wrong! She was going to be okay! Just look at her, she ate so much! She just needed months and months of rest! See?! She’s alright! She’s okay. right? please… ? please – don’t take the only friend I have…
After the picnic, she wanted to sunbathe. It was a relatively cloudy day that day, but for some reason, the clouds broke up and shined warmly on our berm just outside our back door. We helped her lay down on a blanket we’d put down for her, and she quickly fell asleep. When the clouds began to close, we got her back up and brought her into the house. She was angry we made her leave the berm, but we didn’t want her rained on, so we wheeled her into the house in her wheelchair, and took her to bed.
As she laid there, she looked towards my father and asked, “Who’s your friend behind you?” We all looked behind at him, and realized that she was seeing things. Shortly afterwards, everyone left the room, and she sat back up. She had an unused commode next to her bed, and she was reaching for it. I thought this relatively odd, seeing how she hadn’t eaten much, if anything, for days prior to this day, but I got up to help her to the portable. When I finally got her standing up, she put her arms around my neck and just held on. I held her up as much as possible, her weak legs trembling under the weight of her feeble, fragile body. I was afraid to hold onto her too tight for fear that I would break her, so I gently kept a firm grip on her to keep her steady.
As I held her standing there, I could feel her body heat on my chest; a feeling I had come to greatly miss during her illness. I could smell the scent of a sick, dying friend who realized she was near the end. I could hear her shallow, hard breathing as I held onto her as lovingly, compassionately, and caringly as I could. After a moment of aloneness with me, she said one thing, and only one. “I love you.” Then she released her tiring grip from around my neck, and I helped her sit back down. A moment later, she laid down on her side. “I love you, too,” I assured her, and a weak, shallow smile crossed her lips in acknowledgment. The connection was made one more time, and then she fell asleep.
After my wife was sleeping, the rest of the family dispersed to their own homes, except for my Mother and the youngest boy. He had come down to visit his mother before she passed. My Mother and I had been taking turns staying up with my wife, so that we could administer medications to her via a needleless syringe, injecting the toxic painkillers orally.
Even though my mother had plenty of sleep in anticipation of watching my wife all night long, for some reason, when she sat down in her chair that evening, she said that she became unexplainably tired, and she fell fast asleep. For the first time in many months, no one in the house was awake. It was at that point that the friend my wife had seen standing behind my father early that day, came over to my wife, took her hand, and walked her down the hall towards her Destination.
As she left house, she stopped by the couch to say goodbye to her youngest boy. Shortly, he woke up and came into the bedroom to check on her, only to discover her empty shell lying next to me on our bed. He woke up Grandma, who then woke me up by shaking my foot.
I reached over and felt her forehead. She was still warm, though not as warm as she had normally been. I asked my mother and the youngest boy to leave for a moment. When I was alone with the shell of my wife, I leaned over and kissed her on the face, and hugged her.
I was completely emotionless. I was still numb. I had no feeling what so ever, except that I knew I loved her, I hated her, I missed her, I wished for her, I longed for her, and I wanted to do what I should have done then but could not – to cry for her.
For the next four-plus years, I tried to desperately drown out the pain of losing the only friend I had, and I even tried to go meet her at her Destination, but it would not be. My Destination was not to be the same as her’s, no matter how much I dreamt of it. Nothing I did could get me there, nor could I stop myself from the very hideous Beast that killed her to begin with. I had become entirely powerless over controlling the Beast, yet it had become powerless over my Death. It couldn’t kill me, no matter how much I begged and pleaded it to; I couldn’t use it as a tool to die. Together, the Beast and I, we were truly powerless and out of control…