She came in quietly, with barely a peep. Her family was quiet, the nurses gentle.
I sat quietly behind my curtain, respecting their privacy.
In the beginning it seemed simple–she had a UTI. But the thing is, when you are that old, nothing is ever that simple.
It was clear to me form the beginning she was not going home. Unfortunately or fortunately, I’ve been around death long enough to know when it is about to claim another victim. It’s a hush in the room, it’s a literal rattle in the chest.
In the beginning it was a faint feeling, but as my time with her passed, I knew she was passing.
In the beginning, I was upset. Why? Why did I have to be with the dying old lady? She had no control of her body or bodily functions, she just said ‘Ow’ and ‘Help me.’ I resented being her roommate and having to hear her cry out, to be privy to the most intimate of moments.
Then the sounds changed. That sense of death I had before came back. This time it was louder, in her chest. When she breathed, it roared. When she tried to eat, it choked her. I knew that that death had her.
I watched her family come in. Children, grandchildren, siblings… they all came. They told her they loved her. They said their goodbyes.
And she kept repeating the same thing…
Each time she said it my heart broke. She apologized to each of them. Perhaps for how they had to see her, perhaps for leaving them, perhaps for some long lost transgression. I will never know.
But each time she said it, we, her family, the nurses, me, told her she had nothing to be sorry for.
It broke my heart seeing this fail old woman in the bed next to me, the life slowly leaving her body, watching this procession of goodbyes. The end of a matriarch, a mother, a grandmother, a sister and a daughter. Perhaps there is a long lost love her life waiting for her in the afterlife, or heaven, or whatever you believe.
Angels came in my room to watch over Barbara, and in their presence they watched over me. I helped her order her meals, I told the nurses where she hurt and what she liked to eat. I made sure they thickened her fluids so she wouldn’t aspirate more. I sat quietly behind my curtain when her family came and excused myself from the room when she was indisposed for her privacy.
It was Barbara’s time. She lived a good life, she raised a beautiful family who loved her.
I still don’t know why she was sorry and I suppose I will never know. But I am glad that every single person reaffirmed she had nothing to be sorry for. I wonder though, when our times come, when we are in the buzzing, flickering light of a cold hospital room… who will come? What will they say? What will we leave behind?
I will never know why I was roomed with Barbara. Perhaps there was a Higher Power at hand, something to remind me that life indeed does have a finite ending and what is important when you are lying in that cold bed is the people you loved, the memories you made, the hearts you are in and touched and will forever remain. I can’t really think of a reason I was her roommate, but I do know that sitting her tonight writing about her, I am grateful I was. It was an honor to be there with her.
Today they washed her hair. It was straight and fine, a very pretty salt and pepper. She was laying in bed with the covers up, and as I gathered my belongings from being discharged, I touched her on the foot. She looked at me, and I quietly said “Goodbye, Barbara” before walking out.