I never knew who you were before you were sick. I never knew your favorite dessert, or how much you loved the smell of fresh laundry. I never knew that you were afraid of crowds, or that you never really got over your high school crush. Before you were diagnosed with lung cancer, before that malignancy took the very breath from your life, I never knew you.
After the diagnosis, your family tried to help. A sister, busy with her own life a few states away, some scattered friends, and a pastor; these seemed to be all that is left after all that life. 60+ years and just a handful of people still ask about you. What happened, before I knew you, that you would be here so alone in your final hour?
I never knew that people might die alone. I never knew that when the end is near a decision maker who lived far away would choose to let you go but never come to hold on one last time. It was right to let you go, but they seemed to have let you go long before they pulled the life support. I think they pulled their support years ago, and now this final moment is but a culmination of what we all fear. Your disease became you, a sickness that was neither your choosing or fault took over your life such that people could not stand to be with you. Your suffering, it’s too much for them to bear. The ringing in my ears, I can’t tell if it’s the monitor, your breathing, or the silence. My indignation sounds like a blend of your gasping breaths and the pulse rushing through my ears. The scarlet isolation in this, your final hour, is deafening.
The monitor blinks as your oxygenation falls from 90% to 80%, now holding in the 60’s. We turn and bathe and support you. Light conversation and kind words, the only support we can give. Soul support in the absence of life support.
But I never knew you, Margaret. What is your favorite song? What truth do you wish to speak now that your strength is so depleted your mouth cannot close? What joy and love and bond could we have shared and remembered in this, your final hour, if only I knew you.
It is our job to be here, as 4 am draws near it brings with it the ominous signs of your body slipping into a final sleep. We play music and hold your hands. The quiet department becomes more quiet, as we each, in turn, take a moment of silence to respect to the passing about to happen.
What could have transpired that you would be here, alone, in your final hour? Why did your family feel it not important to be here? I never knew you before you were sick. But I know you now. Some things in life are more important, moments that should never be experienced alone. This passing you will not face alone. We are here beside you Margaret, until your dying breath. Rest in peace.