The Final Farewell
Content Warning! This post contains representations of death that may cause some readers distress, particularly those who have lost a loved one, and those who were close to my husband. Please prepare accordingly.
Following on from my last blog post, I continue to 'write about bad stuff'. Death comes to us all, but we rarely think of it until it takes someone dear to us.
My hope in writing about death is that it will serve as a reminder to become more aware of life. To take a breath and appreciate those you love and the life you have, while you still have it.
It’s been eighty days since you died, but who’s counting. That’s nearly three months ago since I gazed upon your body and said my goodbyes. I’d been saying my goodbyes every day for the past eighteen months since your first diagnosis of terminal colon cancer.
The oncologist estimated sixteen months, but you squeezed an extra couple of months out of life. It was a rough couple of months.
The doctor called on the Wednesday prior, saying I’d better hightail it into the hospital as you were “in a pretty bad state”.
“I’m leaving immediately,” I said, but the doctor countered, “Perhaps wait an hour, it’s pretty brutal here. Give us time to get him settled.” I felt sick.
Arriving at the hospital with a sense of dread weighing heavy in the pit of my stomach, I peeked cautiously around the door to your room. You were ‘settled’ and asleep. Sigh of relief.
You decided to hang in there for the next five days. We were at your bedside enjoying amazingly lively conversations when you rallied and keeping a quiet vigil when the drugs bombed you out. You continued to make us laugh with your observations and quips, but these gradually petered out as the drugs were increased to combat your pain. Eventually you were rendered comatose.
Ian, Thelma, and I sat at the end of your bed watching you sleep. We were munching away on the Drumstick ice creams Ian had bought. I hadn’t had a Drumstick in years and was surprised at how small they’d become.
Your breathing became slower and then … nothing. We leaned forward and stared, ears pricked, frozen. Looking at one another, and then back at you … time stood still … it seemed as if hours had passed, and then, you snatched another breath. We collapsed back in our chairs, heaving our own breath of relief. It was a bizarre and comedic scene I’ll never forget; eating ice creams while we waited for you to take your last breath.
On the Tuesday morning, arising for my sunrise walk, I decided to take the path behind the lake at Jells Park. The thought took me that I should sit for a spell on the bench near the lake. I would think of you while contemplating the beauty of the morning. The sky was blushed with pink, and the water was still, sparkling with the rays of the morning light. In this peace, I sat and thought of you. My phone rang. It was the hospital.
“Are you sitting down?’ the nurse asked.
“As a matter of fact, I am.”
The nurse said she was sorry. You had passed in “the early hours”. She wasn’t sure exactly when.
“Will you come to see him?”
“Of course,” I said.
Even though I knew it was coming; how do you feel after being told the love of your life for thirty-five years has gone? Shock. Disbelief. Numbness. Relief that the suffering is over. A certain detachment. I don’t remember crying, but I’m sobbing now, and have done so every day since.
Walking the twenty minutes home, I told Chris and Al who were staying with me. For a while I tossed up whether to go and see your body or not. Chris and Al offered to come with me, but I decided to go alone. I owed it to you, and to myself, no matter how hard it would be. Not being with you when you died made me wretchedly sad. From the nurse’s cryptic comments, I believed it wasn’t an easy death. The thought of you suffering and struggling all alone in your final moments broke my heart.
The sun was shining brightly but the drive to the hospital seemed to be through a dark and silent tunnel.
Standing outside your room, I paused, took a breath, and then tentatively opened the door. The blinds in your hospital room were up and the morning light flooded in, harsh and unforgiving. I stole a quick glance at your face which was framed by a small, white, rolled up towel wrapped around your jaw. Your countenance was grey and tense. I hurriedly closed the blinds and switched on the soft light above your bed. It made you look a little less dead.
The standard blue hospital bedspread had gone, replaced by a hand knitted, soft pink blanket. It was a lovely, homely touch. The heaviness of it highlighted what little was left underneath of your cancer ravaged body.
Sitting by your side, I said my farewells. What I said is lost to me now.
I wandered around the room in a daze, gathering up your few belongings. Your shoes were next to the bed. Picking them up made me sob. What was it about your shoes that seemed so sad? Slightly worn and scuffed, laces hanging limply, they seemed to cry out for the feet that would no longer walk this earth.
Every item of yours I collected seemed heavy but hollow at the same time. It was as if their atoms were made heavier by the departure of your spirit.
They felt like cold and empty things.
With your belongings collected, and the room tidy, I bent over your corpse and kissed your forehead. It felt cool and slightly damp.
Your body was a cold and empty thing. You had gone.
When my dad died, the room held the same empty, heavy void. It was palpable. Mum felt it too. It’s as if the spirit’s departure rips a hole in the physical plane.
Your exodus ripped out a piece of my heart.
On the table next to you, something moved. The heart shaped pillow I gave you fell backwards, and lay gazing at the ceiling.
I had bought it for you for Valentine’s Day. Woollies had stocked the usual array of kitschy items. There was a large, pink, strawberry shaped cushion with eyes, a smiley face, and hands holding a heart that said, ‘I Love You Berry Much’. It was so corny it made me laugh. I thought it may make you smile too. It did, and you kept it at the end of your hospital bed. The young nurse that looked after you fell in love with it and used to hug it when she came in.
Picking up your bags and the strawberry pillow, I took one last look at your face, set in an expression I’ll never forget. I turned off the light and closed the door softly behind me.
The walk along the corridor to the reception desk was a slow-motion dream. Your nurse awaited, her eyes saying everything that needed to be said. I gave her your strawberry pillow. I like to think she has it in her room somewhere and that it reminds her of the lovely man she looked after. Your humour, politeness and kind nature endeared you to all the hospital staff.
The drive home, alone, seemed to be in a dark and silent tunnel.
There is comfort in the fact you are no longer suffering, but mine continues, along with the other people (and animals) who love and miss you. I think those voids will never be filled, even as we vow to live our best lives in your honour.
I spent half my life with you and for that I am truly grateful and blessed. We had such fun together, with barely a cross word.
Your Blundstone boots still sit at the front door. Yours will be big boots to fill.
Farewell, my love. I hope you are at peace.
Yours, with love,
P.S. It will amuse you to know that our friends are getting a new blue Budgie. Blue was your favourite colour. With my approval, they wanted to name it Brucie Boy. So, in your honour, and to remember you every day, they will have a new blue budgie called Brucie Boy! We think you would be chuffed at the idea. Fingers crossed it won’t meet with an unfortunate demise, like the last one.
P.P.S. I love you berry much.