Room 408

17 November 2015

That's where you died. I know you can hear me, out there, somewhere, soaring on a trail of stardust. you're there - with your eyes wide open ... singing, shouting at the top of your voice, the voice that got so cruelly stifled toward end of your earthly existence. 

 I have thought about you these years since your death. wanting, so many times, to put your story in words. wanting to share your courage, your pain, the rip-off of your life ... and death. wanting to share this with others. but, until now, I could not. could not give a voice to that very painful story -- your story. you seem so far away, ... and as I revisit bittersweet memories of you that linger in my heart, i think each day since your death must seem an eternity to your children. I hope that you can watch them grow, and silently, wrap your loving arms around them. Fifteen and seventeen years old ... that's far too young to lose your mother. 

 Know what I remember? 

I remember that angry, stubborn and fiercely secretive woman who brooded in the corner of a 4-bed hospital room. angry ... so very angry. and - I don't blame you. Though it sure made nursing you a challenge at times. Even though the rapidly growing cancer on your thyroid gland, and the tracheostomy it necessitated, had silenced your voice, your outbursts could be extremely vitriolic just the same. In those early days of your admission you lashed out at us all. Possibly, you hoped to keep us beyond your towering wall? I cannot imagine the journey you took, battling your cancer alone. Your children ... so lost and alone, too. Such desperate sorrow silently gushed from their pores each time they came to visit. How did they manage, so alone? Forbidden, by you, to tell their father that their mother had terminal cancer. and ... that acrimonious relationship between you and your ex ... it left you with a bitter taste of antagonism in your mouth even as you contemplated your death. 

I remember your denial. How, at one point, you decided that the oncologist made a mistake. Maybe that's why you had not really prepared yourself, or anyone else around you for the inevitable? The reason your head was swelling so severely that it made your eyes close, you announced, was because of an undiagnosed heart condition. Oh, how this made me feel so sad about the job I had to do. How could I guide your passage through this dark and difficult tunnel if you did not want to even walk inside it? We watched you lose each tiny battle with the cancer. Day by day, week by week. Eventually, silent, sad resignation cross your face like a shadow, and rested there. 

What a rip-off! How cheated we all felt for you. So intelligent, so determined, so much mothering left to do, and one course away from your PhD, and cancer washed it all away. You hung on, for as long as you could. Maybe for too long? We all just wanted it to end. (Does that seem a cruel admission? I don't mean it like that. Though, it does seem selfish, perhaps.) You hung on. It hurt. I remember trying really hard not to let the other patients see me cry whenever the harpist would come and play for you. A small, simple pleasure, a beautiful one that drew a smile upon your face, a beautiful smile. We marvelled that you could still smile. We cried that you could not even talk to your own mother on the phone, because you had no voice ... you could not even tell your mother you loved her, missed her. no words can express it. 

I remember marvelling at how you could write out what you wanted to say on the paper so neatly, so legibly. Even with your eyes swollen shut, your handwriting looked like schoolmarm script - perfectly formed and readable. I'll never forget your reply to my declaration of your strength and bravery: don't make me brave, make it easy. I'll never forget the feeling that descended upon me - best described as a shard of glass thru a soft, ripe fruit - as these words sunk into me.  

I watching you wither, fight, then fail over a period of 8 months. Each and everyday I worked with you, you took my breath away. When i think of you now ... you still do. You challenged us every day, you made us feel it. You taught us courage, hope, compassion, patience ... and above all - humility. Thank you ... for your eternal lesson. I feel so privileged to have shared so intimately the raw moments of your life and to have made a difference in your death. 

I remember you ... for so many reasons. I'll never forget how you said goodbye to your children. On mother's day they came to visit, spent the afternoon with you, pinned their artwork to your hospital room walls. Then they said their goodbyes - that was the last time they saw you alive. Two long and lonely weeks later, you died, alone, in the hours before dawn, in your private and dark room, room 408. I remember. Four oh eight. I will never forget.



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