I’m sitting in a room in the Critical Care Unit of the Cancer Hospital. Actually, the place tries very hard to stay upbeat, so they call this Special Care. Whatever.
Next to me is a petite woman who is in her seventies. She’s a grandmother, a retired nurse, and the mother of the dying man who lies in the bed in front of us. The pain medicine does its work and he drifts in and out of consciousness. Sometimes he is with us, but most of them time he is in moments of the past where he is healthier and happier. He speaks to the people in those moments—the words make no sense to his mother and me, but fit perfectly in the context of his moment.
Our moments are spent watching him, waiting for that last breath, which is imminent but the exact moment is unknown.
The woman rises from her chair and flutters about, straightening the room, speaking of the latest novel she’s reading, checking her son’s feet to make sure they are not cold. And then she sits again, ready to share her dread of the moment when her son will no longer be alive.
She tells me about him as a child, how he related to his sisters, how smart and artistic he was. She lets me see the tear slide down her cheek when she tells me that she just can’t leave this room. She takes her meals here, and sleeps in the recliner, which she says is quite comfortable.
I reach over and pat the top of her hand. I’d like to do more. I’d like to hold and perhaps kiss her hand, but that would be too forward. Actually, I’d like to hold her, and whisper that it will be okay, but that wouldn’t be right either. I’d like to promise her that I’ll take care of her, but I won’t be able to. I’ll have to move on to another room in another hospital soon enough to not quite help someone else who watches a loved one die.
After he’s gone, she won’t be able to come to church because seeing me reminds her of my being with her in the hospital room and she’ll remember I was at the funeral dinner and that I spoke at the service although she won’t remember any of the words. From then on, she’ll associate me with the death of her son. Some people come to hate me for that, but she probably wouldn’t. She’d tell everyone how well I treated her, but find reasons not to come to church or see me if she can avoid it. However, she’ll send in her tithe each month and promise everyone that she’ll be back soon.
I’m sad for her, but I’m also sad for me because I like this one and I’ll miss her.