It is Friday evening. It was exactly 13 months ago, when we started our fight with cancer, and now I am sitting at your death-bed in the Oncology Institution, and I am watching your last breaths. Your last roommate could go home today, so there is only you and me in this two-bed room.
I am watching your breathing with worry. Sometimes long seconds pass between two breaths, that I feel like there won’t come another one. No matter how much I feel I am prepared and ready, no matter how much I know there is nothing else for you in this world, besides peaceful passing away, I am still afraid between two breaths, and beg for it to continue. I am prepared, I just want a little more, I just want another few breaths. Sometimes your breathing become stuck, because the air meets the moisture in your throat, that induces coughs. Your muscles are weak now, but they start their bitter work again and again. They are unable to properly clear your throat and cough out the obstacles. After a few tries the muscles give up, and the rhythmic or arrhythmic breathing continues, with wet snoring through the narrowing airways.
How long can this go on? When is the end going to come? And how will it be? No matter how many times I imagined it, I still can’t really imagine. I know that I don’t know. I know that I can’t know. What is going to happen? How will things be then? What will be after that? How will sitting next to your lifeless body be, knowing that it doesn’t ache, doesn’t move, doesn’t breathe, doesn’t talk and doesn’t think anymore? I am waiting, just waiting, patiently and impatiently. Sometimes I want to rush and accelerate things, sometimes I want to slow things down and stop time until eternity. Only one thing is certain. I am staying here, not going anywhere. I am guarding your dream, and the last minutes of your life. I am spending the night in the hospital with you.
You are growling and coughing more often and more desperately, still unavailingly. I don’t know if you can make it through the night, I really don’t know. You used to say it to mother that she had already gave up on you, but you are still here, you are still fighting.
It is almost midnight now. Your cough-attacks are gone now, as if your airways cleaned a little. You are taking sudden big deep breaths, with long pauses, in a steady pace. You don’t give up easy. Now I feel like you can go on like this forever. It is so peaceful here. Just you and me, your snuffle, the blowing sound of the oxygen-pipes in your nostrils, and its bubbling in the water-container on the wall. Outside the cold city is far away, maybe doesn’t exist at all. I can hear the sound of an alarm from outside, proving the existence of the outside world. But for me, everything is in this room now. It is not much, but enough.
Midnight passed, and you are still breathing steadily. You’ve survived another day. You’ve been fighting now for a year, plus a month plus a day. You’ve started your 14th month, the last one for sure. The refrigerator stopped buzzing, leaving deafening silence behind. Only the oxygen keeps bubbling.
I am lying in a hospital bed next to yours, listening to music, writing, and waiting for you to die.
It is Saturday dawn now. My father had cough-attacks for hours during the night. Around 5am the male nurse gave him another infusion, with another huge dose of morphine, to get him back to his deep peaceful sleep. After the coughs eased, the nurse slowed down the infusion, not to kill him with too much morphine. It was past 6am and already dawning outside, when I could try sleeping again. I could fall asleep relatively quickly after the long day and the even longer night. These cough-attacks didn’t reach my threshold anymore.
I woke up at 8am. My mother called me. She told me in tears that her best friend called her, that her (best friend’s) mother died during the night. She was dying for months or rather for years, so it wasn’t unexpected, but it was still devastating. My mother asked me about how things were going in the hospital with father. I told her that the night wasn’t easy, but he was sleeping calmly by now, breathing steadily. She told me that my brother got sick, so he couldn’t come to the hospital. Mother wanted to come to the hospital with the train at 10am. I laid back to the bed and fell asleep in a few minutes.
Next time I woke up a few minutes after 9am. A younger female doctor and a nurse came into the room to visit. Seeing them I could remember vaguely that there had been another visit earlier, but I hadn’t been able to open my eyes then. The doctor came to my bed smiling, and asked about how I was feeling. She obviously didn’t know that I wasn’t a patient. I looked up to her and told her that I was fine, but I was not sick at all. In the meantime I woke up slowly. The two ladies stood at the two sides of my father’s bed, and they were checking his pulse. The one said silently to the other: “There is nothing here”. The other one waited and concentrated. My head cleared immediately, and I suddenly knew what was going on…
The doctor stood with her back towards me, so I couldn’t see her face, but the nurse’s face was worried. They were looking at each other, waiting. By that time I sat up on my bed, with my legs hanging down, and I knew my father was dead. He died. He was gone. He left us here. I was here with him, but I slept through it. I was here with him, but I missed his leaving. I wanted to see it, but I didn’t repent, and I didn’t blame myself for it. I knew I had to sleep after a night like this. These thoughts were running through my mind only in seconds. Then the doctor turned around and looked at me. She said she was very sorry, I don’t remember her exact words. They were so shy and embarrassed, understandably. My father was lying in his bed, with his head turned left, just like for days, with his left hand next to his head, with wet, sweaty hair, and with sizzling oxygen-pipes in his nostrils. I touched his hand and his forehead. It was still warm. It couldn’t be long ago since he had left us. I couldn’t cry yet, I might not even realize what had just happened.
I asked the ladies about what next, because I didn’t know. I didn’t want to know it earlier. I knew my mother and my brother had to come and see him, to say goodbye. They told me he could stay for another two hours before they would take him. They left the room, and told me they were going to come back later to prepare his body.
I was left alone with him. I didn’t know what to do. My head was buzzing, and I was dizzy because of sleepiness and hunger. I had always tried to imagine how it was going to be. Sometimes I had been very afraid of it, sometimes it had seemed so far away that I couldn’t even imagine. Other times I just wanted to get over it, and I felt I was going to be relieved and indifferent about it. But neither of these actually happened. Everything was so sudden. I was half-asleep and started to feel and act like an outsider, like a hospital-employee for example. The nurses came back in a few minutes. They asked me if they could cut his pyjamas. They asked me to leave for a few minutes. We agreed that they were going to cut all his clothes and cover him with a blanket.
I checked my watch. It was quarter past 9. I knew I had to act quickly to arrange everything. I grabbed my phone and went out to the corridor. It was very crowded and messed up. I knew it was not suitable for a call like this. I went back to the room and asked the nurses to let me use the bathroom. I went in there. I knew my mother was probably already at the train station, and I knew it was not a good idea to let her come to the hospital alone. I also thought that my brother wanted to and had to come as well, so I decided to call him first. She answered quickly. I asked him about if mom was home, but he didn’t know, because he had just waken up. I told him to get off the bed quickly and check if mother was home. He got off the bed, I heard him tumble out of the room and call for mom, without an answer. I wanted to tell to mother first, if she was home. But she wasn’t. So I started to tell him. I don’t remember the exact words, but I told the main thing. “Father died!” My God, I started crying silently. And I couldn’t say any more words. My brother was frightened. “What?” – he asked. I told him “Yes, he did, just lately.” I asked him if he was able to sit into his car, to drive, and to pick up mother at the train station. He said yes of course. I hung up the phone, and called mother. I asked about her whereabout. She was at the station, just as I expected. I couldn’t say words, I was crying so heavily, but I told her: daddy died! I told her that my brother was going to be there in minutes, and he was going to pick her up. She asked me if his body was already taken, but I assured her that they was not going to take him anywhere until they got to the hospital. I hung up the phone and went out of the room.
I was walking up and down the corridor until the nurses came out and told me that they covered his body with a sheet. I went back to the room. He was wrapped in a sheet indeed, from head to toe. He looked like a mummy. I stepped to him and opened it up at his head. He was very scary, with an open mouth, bone white skin, or rather yellowish, with unshaven face and sweaty hair. There was a gauze around his face, as if he had a toothache. I didn’t understand what that was there for. It turned out later that they put it there to prevent his mouth from opening up even more. I guess it would be bad for an open-coffin funeral. Well, he wasn’t in a condition to be suitable for an open coffin. He looked exactly like someone who was tortured horribly by cancer, whose body was eaten up, and who had fought until the last breath. He was not for an open coffin, that’s for sure.
I knew it was going to be a long day, and I had been already dizzy in the morning, because I hadn’t eaten anything since midnight. I took my intact sandwich from the refrigerator, and started eating half of it. I ate slowly, bit by bit. I knew I was not able to eat much, but I really had to. In the meantime I was walking up and down the room. I walked to my father, ate a bit, drank a bit, walked a bit, then all over again. Then I washed my face and my teeth, talked a few words to daddy, changed my clothes, put on my shoes, and walked down the corridor in my jogging and a shirt. I walked down the stairs and went out to the park to breathe some fresh air. It was less cold than I expected, but colder that I could stand for a longer period. But it felt really good. I hoped that it was going to clean my head. As I saw the chapel of the hospital, I thought it was a good idea to go in, but it was too far to get there only in a shirt, so I didn’t. I left it for later if I have time before my family arrived. I went back to the room, I forced another few bites down my throat, talked another few words to dad, and opened up the sheets completely. His body was really tortured, with the feeding tube in his belly, with wet gauzes underneath. His arms were thin and flabby, but his hands were still strong. His thighs were also very weak. Poor daddy, how much he had suffered! I put the sheet back all over him. I checked my watch, and I knew I still had a lot of time. I called my mother. They were already on their way. She was crying heavily, just as me. I took my father’s bag from the wardrobe, and started accurately organizing and packing his belongings. I did it really slowly, and commented everything loud to my father. I finished quickly, no matter how slow I was. We were ready to go. I went out to the nurses and talked about the next steps in detail. We couldn’t really arrange anything, because it was Saturday, and Easter-weekend on top of that. I went back to the room and ate another few bits.
I thought I go out to the corridor or to the park to welcome my family. I went back to drink a little, when I heard knocking on the door. I thought it was someone from the hospital stuff. I went to the door, but it opened up before I could reach it. It was mother and brother. Their faces were desperate. I welcomed them, hugged them, and started crying. They asked me if he was there. “Sure”, I said. I told them he was covered with a sheet. They entered the room and approached his bed slowly, undetermined, with fear. They feared of what they might see. My mother cried out loudly seeing the sheet. “Oh my God, poor father”, she said. I was more familiar, I stepped to the bed and opened the sheet at his head. They were also surprised about the binding on his head. They sat down to the other bed, then walked back up to him, and cried endlessly. That was when my tears started to really fall. That was when it really got me that my father didn’t exist anymore.
Seeing it from now, I think it is very difficult, almost impossible to understand and comprehend death. I think it can rather be used to. And this understanding or “getting used to” is a long, continuous, gradual process, no matter how much people like to mark a moment when it all happened, I think no such moment exists. Everything happens step by step, gradually, like when we learn something new. There are bigger and more important steps, but the whole thing is a process with many little steps, without one major, decisive moment. Nobody asks me what was the moment when I learned swimming, biking or skiing. Because there was no such moment. I think death is the same.
A few minutes passed, when we all started to calm down and ease up a little. Another waves came and caught us time and again, but I felt we were over the first shock. My mother was so over this, that her mind started to go wild and started thinking and talking about all the things we had to arrange and do. It infected my mood and my thoughts as well, and instead of sadness and grief, I started feeling worried and anxious about all the things to do. Then I caught myself and realized what I was doing, so I told myself this was not the proper time to deal with all these. I carefully told my mother not to bother with all these yet, but I couldn’t calm her, and she kept on going. The next moment I realized she was talking about a mortician from next town, who worked much cheaper, although it was a bit complicated to let them work in our village, because the local morticians didn’t like strangers working there. This time I told my mother a little more firmly, but still very kindly, that we didn’t have to deal with this on that day, because we still had time to solve all that. It all happened very suddenly, and I reacted instinctively, without really thinking about what just happened. But now I started to realize all this, and I didn’t want to believe what I had just heard. I started regretting my kindness, because a more severe reaction emerged inside me, that I tried to keep inside. My father’s body was still warm, literally, and my mother was talking about the costs of his funeral, and all the conflicts we had to face in order to save money on this. Then I started crying again, and tried to tell something to mother, but couldn’t formulate words. I felt the salivation in my mouth that used to precede vomiting. I felt my stomach contracting, and I knew what was going to happen. I had time to walk to the basin, when the sandwich from morning came out of my stomach. I threw up everything, nicely into the basin, just as it had been carefully planned. I wasn’t even surprised, I was actually feeling much better after that. I washed my face and my mouth, and drank a little. My mother wanted to give me a tranquilizer pill, but I refused it. I didn’t want to miss any feeling here.
We rode another few waves of tears, when the door opened again, and a previously unseen boy came into the room, with white clothes and white rubber gloves. He didn’t say anything besides offering us his condolences. I asked him if they had come for him. He said they should, then stood there waiting, indecisively. We watched each other for a few seconds, until I understood the situation and asked another minute. This broke the awkward situation, and he left the room saying “of course”. He behaved really suitable to his work and the situation. It really touched me. With only this little time left, we kept on crying again. Mother and brother stepped to father again, and started saying goodbye. My brother kissed his forehead, my mother told him “Good bye darling”, while she was sobbing. Then I escorted them out of the room. Outside on the corridor there was a big white wagon with wheels and a solid white cover on it, like a coffin. It was better like this than black. My mother didn’t want to see them take him, so we took her down to the stairs, and let her wait there until they took him. I went back up with my brother and sat down on the corridor. We were watching as they took his covered body through the corridor. That was the last time I saw him. The boys offered us their condolences once more while leaving. They seemed really sincere again. My mother arrived back just after they disappeared at the end of the corridor. We walked back to the room completely broken. They started gathering his stuff, and they realized, that I had packed everything already. We sat there for another 10-20 minutes. I didn’t want to rush and push things, I knew everything was going to have his own pace. We had let his body taken after we had enough time, and we left the hospital after we had enough time there. Everything was very slow and took long time. Before leaving I fell apart once more, seeing the empty bed, with the dirty sheet on it, where he had been lying for his last few weeks. I fell down on my knees and on the bed, like a little boy who hugs an empty cloth, that was left empty by life and by the person who had used to live inside.
We walked out to our cars in sad silence. We decided that we have lunch together at my apartment, then we go home with my brother’s car. My mother came with me, because I was more sleepy and in a worse shape than my brother. He could sleep at least during the night. I was a bit afraid of driving, but it was alright. We didn’t talk much, but it was better this way. My mother cried in silence. I also cried a little. As we arrived to my apartment, I took a shower, changed my clothes, and gathered my things for going home. They went down to the restaurant across the street to bring some food. I was finished by the time they arrived back. The shower and the clean clothes felt really good after such morning. We ate together in silence. I only ate soup, I couldn’t eat more, but it felt really good. My mother found it weird and morbid that our father had just died, and we came home and ate lunch, as if nothing had happened. Life goes on, as they say it. My brother’s boss told him about the death of his father. He was 21 when he lost him. He died one morning, and guess what happened next? Nothing happened! He had to go working again that evening, just as usual (he was a musician, just like my brother). He had to pay the bills next day, just as usual. The world didn’t seem to give a shit about what was lost all of a sudden. As if nothing had happened… I could only tell my mom, it wouldn’t have been any better if we starved to death. Despite of this I agreed my mother, this was really very morbid. Life doesn’t care about death…