In some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago.
Like a distant memory or a dream… sometimes, I’m not really sure it actually happened?
We had been in that hospital room for 8 nights and 9 days and after awhile it began to feel like we’d never leave; maybe we’d just exist there forever.
It’s funny how your mind plays tricks on you; even though you absolutely, positively “know” death is coming… you begin to believe that this is just how it is now and how it will always be.
Your mind normalises this “waiting for death” routine and you begin to subconsciously convince yourself that “it’s” not really ever going to happen. On some level you begin to believe that you’ll both just be suspended here in this place, in this state, forever. Him in an infinite state of dying and you in an equally infinite state of watching and waiting.
However… eventually it does happen.
It always happens.
In Tommy’s case, he waited until I was involved in a conversation with the Health Care Assistant and not paying full attention.
It was a Saturday. I had arrived at about 8:30 am. He was sleeping soundly. I imagine the Morphine drip had a lot to do with what appeared to be a natural, peaceful, dreamlike slumber.
I said “Hello,” to the HCA and proceeded to get myself situated.
I positioned my chair as close to the side of his bed as I possibly could. With my Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand, I leaned over, kissed his head and whispered “Good Morning.” (I pretended he responded “Hey Sweetheart!” as he would have normally.) I sat in the chair and placed my right hand on his back.
I looked around this drab room, that had become our home and sipped on the coffee… my thoughts drifting.
This wasn’t new. I had been here before. No, literally… I had been “here” before. In this hospital; on this floor in an exact room, just a few doors down.
I fact, I had been here TWICE before!
This is where my Mom died.
After being with her 24/7 for several days, she choose to die alone, after I had gone home to shower and change.
This is where my brother Charlie died.
I had spent 5 long days with him; and after opening his eyes wide and trying to say something that I just could not understand, he died… with me leaning over him, gently stroking his hair. .
And now here we were again.
I watched, as my hand moved up and down, up and down… very slowly with each breath he took. I remember his skin was an odd shade of grey/yellow and his breathing was shallow, but rhythmic.
I don’t know what made me start a conversation with the HCA who had been assigned to sit with him that day. I’m not awkward with long silences… especially in this situation.
Her shift had just started… and she too had a Dunkin Donuts coffee. We started with pleasantries; “What’s your name?” “Yes, I’m Tommy’s sister.” “I live in England.” “Yes, I do love it there.”
And that’s about as much as I remember.
I don’t recall her name or what she looked like. I can’t remember if we talked for 5 minutes or 25 minutes. I don’t even know what we “talked” about.
I just remember in the midst of it all, a tiny voice in my head whispering… Something’s not right. Something’s changed. Something’s wrong.
I stopped talking, in mid sentence and looked down at my hand. It took me a moment, but it finally registered… my hand was no longer moving up and down.
Tommy’s back and my hand were unbearably still.
Somewhat in shock, I looked at the HCA and asked her if she could please “check” Tommy.
She jumped up, came to his bed and felt for a pulse on the side of his neck… After what seemed like ages, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I’m so sorry, let me go get the nurse.”
I remember sitting there next to him (my hand still on his back) thinking, “Wow… Brother… that was easy, huh?”
He had slipped away, effortlessly, while I was busy chatting.
Much of what happened after that is a blur.
The nurse came in, listened for a heartbeat, felt the side of his neck and then looked at me with this genuine look of sympathy and compassion and asked if I was alright.
Did I need anything? Did I want some time to be with him alone? Was there someone they could call for me?
An hour or so later, the doctor came in; he examined Tommy and made the official pronouncement.
I remember the HCA being a bit distraught and apologising that she had distracted me, and taken my attentions away from my brother… I smiled at her (actually wanting to give her a hug) and saying, “No, no… please don’t apologise. That was Tommy… that was my brother… he went exactly the way he wanted to go!”
I’m sure he waited until I was there… but decided to slip away in the few minutes when I wasn’t fully engaged. He hated being the centre of attention.
I helped prepare his body.
I washed his face… wet and combed his hair back… cleaned his arms and hands with warm soapy water.
He looked like he was finally at rest; peaceful.
I watched as they gently bound his hands and feet and wrapped him in clean, cool white sheets.
They asked if there was anything else I wanted or needed before they covered his face and placed him in the white, plastic body bag… “Yes, there is one more thing,” I responded.
I put on some fresh, red lipstick… walked over to him and kissed him firmly on the forehead.
“Please don’t take that off,” I asked.
That was 2 months, 21 days, 10 hours and 46 minutes ago…
I still miss him terribly.