We got in the elevator and he wrapped his arm around me to try and comfort me. Comfort is a funny thing. Most other times it’s just awkward. I mean what do you tell your niece who understands nothing about death? I feel my uncle’s hand trembling against my arm. I know he’s trying to be strong and comfort me but seeing how shaken he is, makes me a lot more anxious and nervous.
It was only earlier this morning when mum rushed dad to the hospital. He was getting better, they said. A while later, the phone rang and I saw my aunt quiver as she listened silently to the person on the other end. It was my uncle. It wasn’t good news. It never is when there’s silence on one end of the conversation. The look in her eyes changed from concern to shock and pain. That gave it away. Looks were exchanged across the room and everyone was different now. For a while, I was excluded from this “sensitive” conversation. How do you tell a fifteen year old that she just lost her father? The man who was sitting on the same dining table as her two nights before he fell cold to a heart attack? Comfort, my awkward companion, they didn’t know how.
I was finally sat down and told that my dad didn’t survive his second heart attack. I don’t know if I was even listening to them in that moment, let alone grieving. I started making calls to extended family and friends to let them know.
Ring, talk, cut.
Ring, talk, cut.
Ring, talk, cut.
People were crying at the unexpected news but I responded with nothing more than a cold thank you. How could I be so cold? How could I be so clueless? Was anything sinking in?
The elevator opens and we’re almost at the ICU. I can feel this lump growing in my stomach but I’m moving mechanically. I feel cold and jaded. Have you ever dreamt of death? I have, far too many times. I’ve woken up in cold sweats and filled with guilt because the people in my dreams are my family and people I care too much about. They say dreams are often alternate realities of your sub-conscience. But I didn’t want him to die, I would never want him to die, how could he die? Two weeks before this horrific day, I dreamt that my father was dying. Two weeks later, it’s not a dream anymore. This was death in all its realness closing in on us, on me.
We walk down this corridor that smelt of that familiar disinfectant. As we reached the ICU, I could see beds of patients weak under their sheets, attached to monitors and drips. Some breathing by choice, some because of a simple switch. It’s ironic how peaceful the ICU seems to a lay person, only to be a sanctuary to fate of the very ill patients, tired medics and grieving families.
I see my mother from a distance. Her body is pale and her eyes are sore from crying endlessly. She’s repeating these words filled with regret, pain, anger and confusion. I can tell she’s been saying this all day. She is in denial. Her body is cold and she’s lost. Through those tears, I see pain and guilt all at once. I see how much she tried. I see how much she wished it was her instead of him. I see a part of her has died with him. I watched her age before my eyes in just a few minutes. Despite that, she’s trying to comfort me but I can feel her bones quiver beneath her body trying to stay strong for me.
We drew the curtain and there he was. The man I once knew to be fit and a champion of life, lying wrapped in a thin white cloth in nothing but his bare skin. He lay there in that hospital bed, naked and vulnerable. His body small, cold and helpless. A man once resounding with humour and candour, now silent and lifeless.
We stood by that ICU bed, holding each other and broke into hard sobs.
You tell me I’m strong. You tell me how proud he must feel to see me now. But really, I’m not. How would you know when you haven’t lived a day in our lives or walked in my shoes? How would you ever know what it’s like? How can you know what he thinks of me or my way of life? You don’t, I don’t. I lost a part of my mother too that day. A part I haven’t seen in nine years. A part you and I will never see again. She’s a strong new woman and yet nothing like she used to be before. How do you know everything is going to be okay?
22 June 2008.
On my way to work this morning, I felt that hand around me again. I was back in that damned elevator reliving a day I wished never happened.
It was every minute of a man once full of life lying cold in cloth.
It was every minute of a five year old boy never having the chance to get to know his father.
It was every minute a wife losing her best friend and companion, and herself.
It was every minute of me losing my childhood and father.
It wasn’t one person we lost nine years ago, it was our way of life and love.
Mum messaged me this afternoon telling me how she couldn’t stop crying because she missed him. For forty-five minutes on my bus this morning, I couldn’t stop crying because of how much I missed him. I cried again then because of how much I missed her. I couldn’t stop crying because for the first time in a long time I felt lonely. And like every other year since 2008, I was back in the ICU lost and alone.
This isn’t a cry for help. It’s the only way I know to cope, so bear with me.
It’s been a long day but maybe we could end it with one of our favourite songs and go back to a day that had more smiles than tears.
Today’s tune: Walk of Life by Dire Straits.
It’s time we moved on.
Day 31 – 22 June 2017.
335 days to go.
Thanks for listening and if you relate, say hello, please and thank you.
Photo by Greg Ortega on Unsplash