And just like that, there is silence. No more snores, no more jokes, no more sighs. No more two arm chairs, two breakfast trays, two people to get ready for bed. It’s an empty bed, an empty space, a soul-sucking silence. An indent in the bed and sheets that still reek of death, sickly sweet and sour. Mostly it’s just a hole, quiet and gaping and sucking at us. Death the vacuum, death the silent thief. When it’s upon you, your hands are tied. Even a compassionate death is most undignified, most ghastly in its ugliness.
It makes me think about all the people in the world who die. Not about them actually, but the people who loved them who watched them die. Sometimes children, sometimes horrific murders, sometimes unbelievable suffering and slow drawn-out torture. It gets worse and worse. And all of those people, they kept on living. And my old grandpa, with dementia, died peacefully at home in his bed, and look at the nightmares I’m having about it. All these people in the world bearing so much grief, how do we all not just collapse under the weight of it?
The body is the worst part. The person who was someone very dear now a corpse, now waxen and white and hard. I’d prefer not to look but there it is, the thing we all become, the thing we all watch our loved ones become unless we cannot bear to look. I’ve seen dozens, maybe even close to 100, dead bodies. I’ve seen mourning families sobbing and fighting and denying and accepting. I’ve been the messenger, the hand of death itself. I’ve pushed the button, turned off the machine, gave the last bit of medicine, the last bit of comfort that eased the pain and stopped the lungs. I’ve laid my hand on shoulder after shoulder, wives sons mothers brothers daughters partners fathers sisters, and said the words that made it real. They’ve stiffened, they’ve collapsed into my arms, they’ve pulled away, they’ve fallen to the floor. They cried, they stood silent, they sat. I’ve rolled the hard cold body into a plastic bag, I’ve pulled out the tubes, I’ve closed the eyelids. I’ve witnessed the yellow, the purple, the grey of death.
And yet, such close proximity to death, such epitomizing, does not hold a candle to being acted upon by it. It’s true nature is not revealed unless the heart is fully torn. Death has not come to you unless it has left you with the ghoul-like caricature of someone you loved, strapped onto a cart and covered with a cloth. Or perhaps in the form of your own baby, flesh decaying on her bones, eyes turned up, chin dangling. Not a cherub, but something truly dead. The inside-out-version of happiness.
Goodbye grandpa with the sail boat, grandpa sitting in the captain’s seat of the pontoon. Goodbye grandpa on the lawn mower, grandpa who didn’t take his dishes to the sink, grandpa who played the little organ. Goodbye grandpa watching the history channel, grandpa interested in the antique cars, grandpa flipping through time magazine. Goodbye grandpa driving the car on road trips, grandpa asking me how my car is running, grandpa insisting on buying me a new car instead of used. Goodbye grandpa at recitals, grandpa at sports games, grandpa at the adoption ceremony. Goodbye grandpa and his morning oatmeal “bear porridge”, grandpa and his newspaper, grandpa and his Lawrence Welk show. Goodbye grandpa who listened to me play the piano for hours, grandpa who said my stepdad could go to hell when I needed somewhere to go, grandpa who always said “I love you too, honey”. Goodbye great-grandpa with the white whiskers, great-grandpa playing with the baby toes, great-grandpa feeding the dog yogurt, great-grandpa with the “you’re a sweetheart, aren’t you”s.
Goodbye until it hurts. And then goodbye again.