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When the Dying Do Not Want to Say Goodbye
Words and Image by Karin Sieger
When I was treated for cancer, you kept your distance. You had already buried two husbands. You probably did not want to get close, and go through it again. We never talked about it.
Then it was your turn, terminal. You did not want to talk about it.
You did as you were told, hoping to slow things down, things that were growing so visibly inside of you. I did all the talking. Was that ok with you, I asked—yes.
And me? I wanted to talk, about cancer, about life, about dying, about fear.
Me? I hate the pretense, the looking away, the “it won’t happen to us” of other people. I know you were not pretending, but you did not want to let me in.
I visited you in hospital, when they finally accepted that it looked 'bad'. I cancelled everything, booked a last minute flight. But you did not want to talk, or even open your eyes.
I was angry. Because I knew you could talk, but you wouldn’t.
I was angry, because the way I had wanted to be with you, by your side, that was not possible. I had wanted to sing for you, and hold your hand in silence. I had wanted to share your dying moments. I had wanted to be your hero (and mine).
I had hoped you would show me how it is done, dying in peace. But you closed off, in death as in life.
Perhaps it was really because of me; perhaps because I have been given more time.
Perhaps it had nothing to do with me, and it was my guilt for sitting opposite you, instead of lying there, dying—instead of you.
I was angry with myself for feeling guilty; angry with you for making me feel helpless; angry with myself for feeling helpless.
I was staring at your yellow face, staring at the drips, the colostomy bag, your green shoes, the cat picture on your shirt, the dying flowers in the corner, the yoghurt pots, unopened.
Staring at you, I stared at myself; at my future, the one I will not have and the one I do not want.
Staring at you, I stared at my past, the one I never wanted, but I got, and the one I will never have.
And staring at you, I stared I at my present, the one I want to live with honesty, as best as I can.
But you don't want to talk.
I was staring at you reaching out for the water bottle on the bedside table, the water spilling. I moped it up. Your eyes opened, clearly, you looking through me.
And I wanted to go, there and then. I did not want to talk—anymore. Nothing left to say, in death as in the life, nothing.
I just never got it, the way I did then. You had never invited me into your life. It had all been by circumstance, by marriage to my cousin, but not by your choice.
Five days later, your old mother finally managed to get you home. I hear your beloved cats did not lie next to you. They avoided your bed.
When I phoned, I was told it did not look ‘good’. I lit a storm light outside. The tide was coming in. The river is predictable.
The call came the next day after lunch; you had died the evening before, at 1915. Talking does not run in the family. Not even when people die.
I have stopped talking to some of your family and mine, since then. But I cannot yet stop talking to you, talking at you. I know you remain silent, in your rage.
I hear you died in the company of two friends. I hear your mother had just gone to the bathroom.
There are stories about people holding on for the other to arrive before they die. There are stories about people dying when (some) people have left the room.
I have no idea what happened with you, but I find myself thinking about it. I can think of some people who will not be able to cope, when it comes to my turn to die. I can think of some people who I would like to be there, but they are already dead.
I want to be left in peace, no fuss, no drama. Just let me go in peace. It is not easy to die in peace —I imagine. It is not easy to live in peace—I know.
I have noticed that since your death, I have longer periods of silence, and shorter conversations. I am a silent person, anyway, but something has turned inwards, more so now, then before.
Perhaps it is anger, perhaps it is fear, perhaps I am tired, perhaps I am more settled, and perhaps I need silence to listen to a new message and a new meaning coming through.
I don’t know.
I really don’t know.
#Real #Cancer #Talking #Hero #Guilt #Anger #Fear #Peace
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