I’ve only been in there once, and I was fourteen at the time, knee deep into my freshman year of high school. Funny how your “ME”lio-centric view of the universe changes when you find out your grandmother is in a hospital bed.
She had just returned from a trip to Florida with my grandfather in the days leading up to the stroke. In the month before she had attended the funeral of her best friend, remarking that she hadn’t been able to get warm since.
After weeks in the hospital I remember the family being called up to her room. I see images of my mother massaging her mom’s feet and legs over crisp white sheets. I can picture the sunlight streaming through the large windows of this hospital room crowded with members of our large Catholic family. I remember my sweet uncle at his mother’s ear letting her know we were with her. I remember her slow labored breaths and holding my own breath as I waited longer and longer after each exhale, listening for her next intake of air. And then the next one just never came…
The gravity of tears and of the moment winning against me in this contest of strength. Moving into the corridor to see cousins and an aunt rushing up the hallway, only to find they were just a few minutes too late- them disappearing through the door. Sharing yet another first with my cousin and best friend- this initiation unlike all the others- one we never thought about or pined for.
An exit without flourishes- without drama. Just the next breath that never was. The theatrics are for the living as they grapple with the simplest of all truths. Mortality. Loss. Change.
I find myself thinking of that day as I learn of other people’s grandparents and relatives isolated in hospital beds- perhaps with sunlight streaming through windows- but without their family’s touch and comforting words and presence to see them through.
I find myself in awe of nurses and end of life care providers who, with grace and compassion, usher the grandparents, the aunts, the moms and dads who were once someone’s son- someone’s daughter- through their impending inevitability. Of those who, daily, are in the room where it happens.
Though I have lost others over the years, I have not again been witness to that most human but also most holy of moments. Have mourned without the reassurance of witnessing that quiet last breath, the calm stillness that follows it. But whether I was in the room or not, having been there once, I get to envision that peace for them- the letting go of worldly weights- as they move softly from this room into another. -A.