The day your mother died was like this wintry morning, bleak and gusting, with torn branches and leafy twigs scattered across the highway. We were driving back from town when your sister called and told me to tell you your mother had gone, suddenly, in the ambulance, heart failure. I asked you to pull off the road and told you this. You nodded. All the same, you didn’t (couldn’t) hear me and drove home planning to go and see her right away, somehow speak with her, save her, hear her voice once more. But she was gone, your shock and denial held you aloft until you could face that finality.
And now your sister so ill, again this sudden and unexpected crisis. The family all gathering, bewildered, shaken, trying to offer comfort to one another. Differences forgotten for now.
This is the stupid thing about severe and agonisingly mysterious illness, we all Google medical approximations and search for instant answers, confirmation of our worst fears, new cures, things the medical team might not know. Ridiculous. We fall back on cliches that have to do with “pulling through,” “being in the best hands,” “keeping hope alive”. Or we take comfort in statistics. “She has a 50-50 chance.”
It is rainy and cold outside, the first winter storms, and the patient is in an induced coma or multiple organ dysfunction — or perhaps her body has begun fighting back and responding. We don’t know. An interminable waiting game and something we shall all endure one day, somewhere we cannot but go. End game.
Coffee, sleeplessness, tension headaches, the tedium of waiting but not wanting news unless it is good news… and the ordinary daily routines must be followed but seem irrelevant and pointless. The woodland scenery glimpsed from the train window while speeding towards life’s end. The darkness that keeps falling earlier than we thought. But a sink of dishes to be washed or a chopping board piled with diced carrot, the frightened sentences tapped onto a screen, are ways to try and convince ourselves life for us will go on, for now. We must care for one another, time is running out.
What Auden said, “We must love one another and die.” Earlier he had written “We must love one another or die” but he came to recognise the deeper, more unsparing truth.
Waiting for news, not giving in to despair. Not yet, perhaps, the postponement, deferral, second chance, small miracle. The cliches may be all we can hold onto at times like these. And the wind blows rain hard against the windows, the sky darkens towards storm.