I get the call. The end is coming. I’m not surprised. I’ve seen his body distorted by this horrible and terrifying cancer. I’ve heard his voice compressed by the scythe to his throat.
It’s time. Despite drugs and good care, nothing can stop all the ills that flesh is heir to. He must now leave this disgusting envelope, shuffle off this mortal coil. He is sick of it. And so are others. Wounds, sores, ulcers. Tubes, pipes, probes. Blood, pus, feces.
I go to the palliative care hospice. I am greeted, for almost the sixth week, by the soft bubbling of the fountain and the tender look of a bubbly receptionist.
I take my time before turning the corner to room 102. I suddenly regret having chosen not to take any anti anxiety pills. The angels of death walk by softly and smile at me with compassion.
His brother meets me at the door, glad not do the vigil alone. And there he is, lying on the bed, eaten away by evil, knocked out by a coma-cocktail that keeps his mouth wide open. I am fond of this agonizing human being. My heart feels tight, alternating between love and fear.
The hours go one by one, like a rosary made of coffee beans. I fight to stay awake, emptying the pot as quickly as it is filled. I often rest my head on the cupboard of the kitchenette and try to ignore the cries of a family who has lost their child or mother.
The first night of a vigil that will last four, he is lucid enough to understand what is happening. We promise him that we’ll stay with him until it’s over. He is stunned and terribly sorry it has to be so soon. He grabs our hands never to let go. This forces us to wipe our nose on our shirt sleeve when he’s not looking.
On the second night, he is delirious with his memories. It’s my favorite moment. Seeing him trying to get up to fix a nonexistent crooked frame. Or getting impatient, calling me a name I don’t know, insisting that I hop behind him on his motorcycle.
The third night, his death rattle echoes the murmur of the humidifier. This sound is horrible for the living. I think of my son. I get submerged by sorrow when I imagine that, one day, he may have to suffer my own demise this way.
The fourth night, his brother and I are almost accustomed to hear doom exhale in gurgling waters from his chest. The angels wash him and fill him with chemicals. Each time, we seize the opportunity to eclipse ourselves. My uncle has scotch. Yes, please.
Oh, how the Reaper does take it’s time! As I look upon the dying man who was a father to me gasp for air and turn blue, I pray: “Come on! Die! I beg of you, stop! I can’t anymore! Die already!” But he will leave as he has lived: stubborn, rebellious, drinking life, even if rancid, until the last drop.
At dawn, his jaw makes one final click, his eyes open and a grayish film covers them. The long-awaited silence is suddenly even more terrible than anything. I kiss his forehead, his cheeks, whispering little girl stupidities in his ear. I turn to his brother and we cling to each other like a raft at sea.
The angels wash him one last time. They put on him a shirt and perfume. They stick a flower between his fingers that I hastily remove. He would have hated this image. I grab his watch on the nightstand. It’s mine. I’ve decided. I look at the time. 4:47 am. Through the window, geese draw a check mark in the sleepy sky.
Finally. Finally, I tell myself.
Although I know that, tomorrow, there will be void.