The white-haired woman lays lifelessly in bed, surely farther on then Liberal Theologian. The Earnest Chef heads right for the poor women’s doorway before I can warn him it’s the wrong room. But then I recognize the bed-side man who’s holding the patient’s hand and it’s LT’s father. It’s me who was wrong.
“Should we stay?” I whisper to him, “Or would you prefer to be alone with your family?”
“Oh – stay,” he says. So we sit and I take LT’s other hand. It’s hard to know if she recognizes my presence or not. Every visit she continues to decline.
More family are in the hospice’s lounge area and they come and go regularly. The daughter has already visited today. She’s working this evening; a line-up of students to tutor in their homes. LT makes rare communication attempts to ask for her daughter. “She’s coming back in the morning,” we keep telling her.
Eventually I must go move the car in accordance with limited free-parking roulette, and upon return the Earnest Chef pulls me back out to the hallway. His face is pained. He reports that she is expressing her desire for things to end.
It’s like a blow to the head. Instinctively my hands move to protect my face. Or maybe I’m trying to hide from it. Suddenly we’re embracing fiercely and weeping.
“I want you at the end,” she says. Her voice is a mouse whisper. “I want you at the end.”
“Of course,” I say, squeezing her hand just ever so barely. She longs for touch but so easily interprets injury.
“I want you at the end… I want you at the end…” I am touched but not flattered. She wants us all at the end, I know. But I also know that she will not, in the end, be capable of fully grasping who all is present and who is not.
The nurses confirm “a marked deterioration” over the course of the afternoon. “Her daughter should be informed,” they say. But I have already left her voice and text messages with the Earnest Chef’s cell phone contraption.
I’m heart-broke over Dog Whisperer. She is probably LT’s best friend of all. But hospitals are a torture for her. Do I send word of the developments so that she can agonize over it? So she can beat herself up over the attempt-to-visit-or-don’t-visit equation and all the pressure and perceived guilt around it? I feel I have no choice but to be forthright and send word but I bail out a little and send word to her family: private messages to Earth Writer and Aqualad. Of course, they tell her as they must.
I am holding her hand when her Mom and Dad each come to say goodbye and “see you tomorrow” and “I love you.” I drop my head low so they don’t have to see me falling apart for them.
After the extended family have all departed LT speaks a few words. “It has to be tonight,” she squeaks. "It has to be tonight," and The Daughter winces and hides her face.
“It’s not time,” everyone says. But I wonder about that. It sure looks like it’s time. What is left for her? And what is left of her? She won’t eat or drink or open her eyes – except once she becomes animated: She raises her hands, goes rigid and barks, “I want Monica!” Monica is a friend and a nursing student who has visited earlier in the day and will return tomorrow. It’s late in the evening and we have been trying to dissuade LT from these feeble repeated demands to see Monica.
Finally I am alone with LT. Perhaps I will stay the night. But then Monica arrives with her mom. Someone relented and texted her and she came. She holds LT’s hand.
“Okay,” says LT. “Let’s get on with it.” And we then realize the significance. But Monica cannot provide the desired assistance. Merciful it might be, but it’s still called murder in the Magnificent Wisdom of the Law. There is no machine to unplug. Only strong narcotics.
LT finally sleeps. Monica and the duty nurses are happy with her breathing and her colour, and assure that she will sleep well and survive the night. So I go home for some rest and return early this morning. Others follow. The sun is out today, having lived to see another day, and so have we all, except that LT has lived to lie in bed and not see it.
What do you see instead behind your eyelids, sweet friend? What strange realms have drugs and decay painted in your private mind? I hope that it's some adventure. I hope that this ragged remnant of life is somehow worth hanging on to.