When Great Trees Fall

You knew I think, in that funny way that we both sometimes know things. I left work early, it couldn’t wait. It meant that we had one last meal together before it began. You ate fish and chips with your fingers and I teased you gently as I always did.

I heard the phone ring in the middle of the night and the sound of your voice. It took me a while to comprehend the significance. I found you in the bathroom, clutching yourself in pain. They think it’s my heart, it’s not my heart. I need to ring the paramedics.

Mum, come and lie down, why didn’t you wake me. I’ll call them.

They came and they went. You were right. It wasn’t your heart. We won’t ever really know what it was, just that it was your body’s way of giving up. You told me you were tired. You’d had enough. You weren’t going anywhere now.

We’d talked about what we would do when the time came recently. I’d known that you wouldn’t see another birthday, made a fuss of you at Christmas, knew it would be your last.

I’ve been hanging on, you said. But I’m so tired now. And the pain, it’s too much. I can’t go on.

I’d never heard you say those words before.

If my Mum says it’s 10 out of 10 pain then it’s bad, I tell the nurses. You realise she has 9 lives though don’t you? We’ve been here before. We are all here now, anxious about what will come to pass but wanting answers to questions too difficult to answer. How long do you think she has left? Is it hours? Days? Weeks? We have families, jobs, we don’t know what to do…we don’t live near by…

Day and night become one and we keep vigil by your bedside, watching your chest, waiting. We don’t think you will make it through the night.

Can I have a cup of tea? You ask us in the morning. Mum, we didn’t know whether you’d wake up I say. Really? That didn’t occur to me, as you sit up in bed.

You knew you had visitors that day, your grandchildren, your best friend, flocking to your bedside to say their goodbyes. You rallied, as people sometimes do, enjoying the attention, laughing and joking and holding our hands. We sing to you, stroke your hair, fetch hot or cold flannels accordingly. You worry about who will feed the birds, how your friend will get home, what we are going to eat for our tea.

I promised you I would help you to have a good death, but I realise that I don’t know what to do. I’ve never sat with anybody as they died before and I don’t know the rules. The similarity with birth and labour strikes me. I hope your body knows what to do.

I teach you some guided meditations, encouraging you to imagine a beautiful beach. I hope you can go there later when you are beyond us. I ask you to breathe in golden light and to breathe out all of your fears. I hold your hand. There’s nowhere to go, there’s nothing to do.

We keep vigil as the nurses come and go. I know that you will have to move out of your marital bed and into the hospital bed we have set up in the back room. I want to be able to watch TV and see the garden, you’d said. Your devoted husband cries as he knows you will not be coming back.

I try to be strong, I don’t want you to see me upset.

My sister keeps vigil that last night, strong and loving when we are all exhausted and need to sleep. She wakes us when the time comes and we rush in, tell you we love you and that you can go, hoping you can still hear us.

Afterwards, we clutch each other and cry. The end of one process, the start of another.


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