To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die. – Thomas Campbell
The sun is shining today. It had been a long winter and its tight grip on Spring was beginning to make me wonder if I would ever see the sun shine in time. I opened my eyes slightly and allowed the harsh glare to peer in through the slits of my eye lids. It was gleaming; the warm reminder of a brand new day.
The smell of fresh coffee aroused my nostrils. I lean over and sense a fresh cup cooling on my bedside table beside me. It’s steam slowly rising in wafting wisps of aroma. I try to raise my head, but the feeling of weight pulls me down toward the mattress, enveloping me into the fibres of the pillow top surface.
I look over at the chair in the corner of the room. It’s occupied by my sister this time, her eyes closed from exhaustion and emotion, a book of poetry on her lap and a crimson blanket limply wrapped around her left shoulder. She hasn’t noticed that I’d awoken, but I hadn’t the voice to call to her. Instead I stare at the ceiling, counting each intricate bump and crevice that outline each ceiling tile. I had stared up at these tiles countless times before over the years, but now they stared back at me as if to witness my fate.
I hear footsteps coming down the hall, and in vain I again try to lift my head. The door opens a crack, and my sister stirs. She rubs her eyes and notices that I am awake, and like a soldier she is at the ready and by my side. She takes hold of the comforter and straightens it for me, and as she does her eyes connect with mine. She desperately tries to conceal her emotion, but her eyes betray her, like windows wide open to the world. She is sad. She is fearful. She reaches a hand over and strokes my head where my hair had been. She reaches for the scarf that adorned my head, and gently places it back over my bare skull. Her hands are warm and soft, delicate and sure. Her hand lingers for a moment just above my forehead, and I can see she wants to make the moment last a bit longer. I don’t deny her. I blink once, trying not to break eye contact. Her eye lids flood with liquid and a gleam is hidden behind a sea of unspoken emotion and tears. She breaks her eyes away and I can hear her utter something under her breath. It’s unfair that she gets the last word, not like when we were growing up. She was insistent she was the smarter one, the prettier one, the better one. We were best of friends and the fiercest opponents. Stealing my skirts and make-up were only the tiniest of trivialities now. If only we could sit and drink our coffee and laugh like we used to.
At the doorway is my husband. He has a plate of food in his hand, and I assume it is for me. He smiles as he places it down beside me, and gestures to me that he would like to help me up from my pillow. I nod meekly. The pain in my throat is harsh and unyielding. But after all these years, he sees beyond what my body can communicate. He reaches his strong, capable arms around my torso and attempts to bring me to a seated position.
He places the cup of coffee to my lips, and I try to reach for it to hold it for myself, but the effort is fruitless, I have no strength left. My body aches so much that I twitch in an effort to feel relief, but there is none. The coffee touches my lips, but the flavour is absent. The aroma is sensual, familiar. I desperately wish to taste it but the desire is futile. I haven’t tasted anything in weeks. Its a cruel sentence, facing the end without so much as a last meal, or at least one that can be savoured. I lazily blink my eyes, and my head is heavy again. My husband instinctively senses this and helps to gently ease my head back onto the pillow. His eyes also deceive him, but he remains stubbornly stoic; the caregiver, the lover, the survivor. A lifetime of love is communicated in a glance, and breathlessly he leans in for a kiss. I can sense its meaning more accurately and plainly than I could recall the flavour of coffee. Its delightful, bittersweet recollection is like permission to breathe. The petty arguments, the strife, the pain and the struggle are forgotten in favour of laughter, passion, late night talks and endless love-making. The simple, quiet moments of seeming inconsequence are now vivid reminders of a life well loved, and I would give anything to have those moments back again. The early morning hours where I would lean into his slumbering frame and wrap my leg around his, snuggling into his warmth. The long walks down the road, hand-in-hand, saying nothing. The longer car rides where I would be attempting to read, but he wanted to talk. His phone calls when we were on our way home from work, where he would call to ask what I had planned for supper. I never had supper planned. The evenings at night, when we would finish our day snuggled up on the sofa, engrossed in a television program, never saying a word but instead sharing in the drama and the laughter of someone else’s creation. It was moments taken for granted. It was the everyday mundane things. It was us.
And had I told him everything I wanted to say? Had I taken every opportunity to let him know I loved him?
I closed my eyes, and he lifted his lips from my skin. We parted. And I fell into sleep again.
I open my eyes. The sun is still shining, but the colour is different. Through bleary eyes I can just make out the image of a familiar person but the effort is too great, and I close my eyes again. The soft sounds of a breeze whistles through the slightly open window. Its crisp air swirls around my body and chills me. I shudder involuntarily. The pain in my legs and my arms intensifies and I squirm in an effort to relieve the sensation. An unearthly groan can be heard coming from deep within my chest, but I consciously hadn’t made the sound. I desperately want to turn to my side, to roll over and go back to sleep, but my muscles won’t co-operate with what my mind is communicating to them to do. In defeat, I close my eyes and wish for sleep.
A slight pain in my arm arouses my senses, but I lack the energy to open my eyes. A pair of hands, soft and gentle, but decisive and quick, have taken a hold of my arm. It’s unclear what is happening but I assume its a nurse starting an IV line. I’ve been given something because before long, I can feel a fog of relief coursing through my veins. It’s subtle at first, numbing the pain as it creeps through my blood stream. I welcome it, like an old friend.
It is dark outside when I open my eyes. My mouth is flooded with saliva, and I choke slightly on the sensation. I can barely swallow. My throat is so coated with mucous that it is almost unbearable and I long for the ability to spit. Instead I gurgle and someone places a soft cloth around my mouth to catch the drool that creeps out around the corner of my mouth. I look across the room, trying to focus but its difficult. The low light and the bleariness make it difficult to distinguish anything except what it familiar from memory. My sister’s unmistakeable silhouette is seated on the chair again. Her eyes are puffy and red and she has obviously been crying. My husband is seated at my side and I can smell the musky scent of his deodorant. Its a comfortable smell, and ordinarily I would be turned on, but that response in my body seems to be lacking. His hand is resting atop my own. Its rough texture and unmistakeable shape envelops my frail fingers that have lost almost all similarity to the youthful hands I had once possessed. My wedding rings have long been removed due to swelling. My finger nails have lost their lustre and are now brittle and thin. But his hands never change. His hands were the hands that worked tirelessly to support us. His hands were the support for me in times of fear or worry. His hands were instruments of pleasure. His hands. The night we flirted with one another, the night we knew that we were falling for each other, it was his hands that reached out and grabbed mine. The wave of butterflies that welled up from the pit of my stomach flourished into a giddy sensation that made me desire him more. Of our souls and our bodies, our hands were the first to touch. And now they would be the last thing that connected us. I silently begged, oh please don’t let go.
I open my eyes, it’s still dark outside. There are others in the room. I can’t make out their faces, but their voices are familiar. Their timbre’s blend into a symphony of sounds lulling me into silent appreciation. It’s harder to keep my eyes open, harder for me to remain conscious. All I can feel is the pain, ever knocking at the door and being kept at bay by the fog. All I can smell is the scent of bodies and emotion and my Aunt’s perfume. I can hear the voices constrained by fear and respect. The urge to laugh is suppressed, the urge to cry even more so. I can hear the forced smiles behind their muted conversation. I can feel their eyes on me. It’s awkward. I wasn’t there to entertain, yet I was the central attraction. I feel rude and inconsiderate, despite what I know is ultimately my final good-bye. And I have no say in the outcome. I have nothing to contribute. I have no eloquent speech prepared, no flourish of creativity or drama. I don’t want to leave like this. I have so much left to do and so much left to experience. The anxiety swells within my lungs and an unearthly moan involuntarily lurches from within my throat. Someone new is in the room with me, I don’t know how she is. She moves deftly to my left side, pushing my husband aside causing him to let go of my hands, She has a syringe of some sort in her hand and she injects something into the tubing in my left arm. It takes only seconds for the fog to fight my senses for dominance, and it overtakes me. The silhouette of the stranger floats into the background and I again can sense my husband rush to my side. He grabs my hand and squeezes it tight. He squeezed just tight enough that I could sense that he never wanted to let go. How I wish I had the will to open my eyes.
The room is silent. My eyes won’t open, but I know there are only a few people seated around. Their breathing is low and laboured, like they are trying to preserve the last remaining air in the room. What day is it now? How long had I been asleep?
The sun was just slowly coming up. The soft pink and white glow was just peeking through the window blinds and I desperately wanted to see it. As if by determination alone my eyes opened and I turn my head toward the East. The rays of light reach out like beacons of welcome for a new day. The glowing lines stretch across the horizon and warm my face. My husband is fast asleep, his hand still resting in mine, his head lay beside me on the edge of the bed. My sister is asleep in the chair. Her vigil hasn’t ceased. Neither has my husband’s. I can’t tell them how I know, but it’s time.
I muster the urge to open my mouth and utter a tiny cry. My sound is like a blazing alarm, and they each rouse from their slumber. My husband draws my hand to his mouth, caressing my fingers with his lips. The warmth of his breath moistens the dry skin on my knuckles. My sister rubs her hand along the length of my shin situated beneath the thick comforter. I turn from one to the other, in voiceless appreciation. Their faces never looked sweeter. And as if time stood still, a light brighter then the rising sun fills the room, bringing with it the sweetest melody of hope and joy and laughter.
Inexpressible sounds like a symphony of everyone I had ever known calling my name through song and the scent of every pleasant memory waft through like a sensual aroma. I smile, or at least I think I am smiling.
And then…my soul lets go, like letting go of a hand, or like blinking. I am gone.