caring for the dead

Over two weeks now, and some nights I still can’t sleep. My mind wanders to the last time I was with my grandma, because that is as close in time to her as I will ever be now. I still hear the agonal breathing, feel the slowing pulse, the sweaty skin… still feel the floppiness of her limbs. I hear the last words she said to me and wish I could hear them again, in real time. “I love you.” Mostly, I miss her. And I miss knowing she is. My childhood world no longer is, it only was, because one of it’s key ingredients is gone forever now.

Today, my patient died. He was alone and so I tried to stay with him. It was too hard sometimes, because before my eyes he would morph into my grandma. Later, as I pulled the tubes from his body and rolled him into his white body bag, I could not help but think of the nurses and aides who did this with my grandma’s body. I knew it wasn’t right but I couldn’t help imagining them rolling her lolling, limp body about, yanking out the IVs, feeling her warm skin now cold and bruising. I imagined the white, lumpy human form under the sheet being discretely wheeled out of the building on a cart.

Sometimes at night I imagine them feeding that body, that meat-covered skeleton that was beloved to me, that once rocked me to sleep and carried me on a hip and held my hand, being slid into an incinerator. I imagine each cell burning, combusting, and her form, the form that was love in the physical world to me, disappearing into thin air.

Like I did after Avalon (my baby) died, I wonder how a being, a whole person, could just be gone. “Into the everywhere,” I used to tell myself (thanks to Brooke at By the Brooke), “that’s where she’s gone.” This is the most comforting response, maybe even the most scientifically accurate, but it does little to soothe the unease of the void left behind by the deceased. I don’t want her in the everywhere, I want her in her orderly, familiar form. I want to fly far and wide in this world, but can’t imagine doing so without the base from which I launch, without the familiarity of “home” to return to, even if in my mind.

There is no bargaining, anger, or acceptance that will give me what I very simply want: my grandma back. Permanence. No amount of denial will bring it into existence. I am left with sadness, with loss, with a hole that can only be hovered over… never erased, never filled.

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Categories: loss and grief

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