February 1, 2013

On visiting the hospital to witness a death

You realize that you are rushing. Not running, which would be undignified, but trotting a quick step through indistinguishable wards and hallways, scanning arrows for guidance and counting room numbers.

You turn a corner and sight a relative and slow your pace. It's a chance to read their face to know what's coming - a diagnosis written in pursed lips, wet eyes and pale skin. Did we make it in time? Is she still alive?

Entering the room after wordless hugs, you turn to the first bed but it's not her. It's never her. Hospitals rotate beds to ensure loved ones are never the first person you see. You've stumbled into someone else's private grief and back away from the stranger-patient and their family apologetically, entering your own crisis with tail tucked.

Past the next curtain and there he is, life held together by willpower and breathing tubes. Your uncle and aunt tried to warn you about what you'd see but words don't cut it. Words can't prep you for the suckerpunch of seeing a love one diminished, turned into the intersection of tubes, wires and flesh. I know, we all know, that we're going to die, that an eternal parting from everything we cherish is inevitable, but here it is in person. Mortality 101.

She's not conscious. No, she is. Is she? You peer into the doped gaze for recognition and intelligence, smiling fake confidence. It takes five seconds at most to realize words won't do. Instinct kicks in and you literally try to get a grip.

Touch is the undeniably real sensation in the middle of an undeniably unreal blur. Cold, dry skin is a solid fact. Gossamer, untinted hair is proof of existence.

You perch on the hospital bed and settle for touch. If that is settling. The moment is basic and primitive.






  1. I was with my Grandma when she died in the hospital. I was not prepared, but she was. It is a bizarre experience when you are confronted with end of life. It's is very sudden.

  2. I wasn't there when my Opa or my wife's grandmother passed, but I did see them both in hospital, diminished from the physically strong people I knew them to be.

    I don't know what to make of the world.