Not everyone who has the chance will want to talk about dying, or say good-bye when it is their own impending death. This is not easy either for those who want to say good-bye. Here is what happened to me.
I had to say good-bye in my own way – here, in an imaginary conversation with the person who did not want to talk about dying or say good-bye to me.
1. The distance
When I was treated for cancer, you kept your distance. You had already buried two husbands who did not survive. You probably did not want to get too 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 not want to talk about dying.
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.” Not more, not less, no debate.
And me? I wanted to talk about dying – about cancer – about life – about fear.
Me? I hate the pretence, the looking away, the ‘we mustn’t talk about it’ of other people.
I know you were not pretending, but you did not want to let me (or anybody?) in.
2. In hospital
I visited you in hospital, when they finally accepted that it looked ‘bad’. But you did not want to talk.
I had 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, but you would not talk.
I was angry, because the way I had wanted to be with you, by your side, that was not possible.
I had wanted to hum 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 was selfish.
I see you reaching out for the water bottle on the bedside table, the water spilling, I mop it up, your eyes open, clearly, you look through me, and I want to go, there and then.
I do not want to talk. Nothing left to say, in death as in life, nothing.
3. Talk about dying
I had hoped you would talk about dying and 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 at sitting opposite you, instead of lying there, 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.
Staring at your yellow face, the drips, the colostomy bag, your green shoes, the cat picture on your t-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 got, and the one I never had.
Staring at you, I stared at my present, the one I want to live with honesty, as best as I can.
But you don’t want to talk about dying.
4. The realisation
I just never got it, the way I did then.
I had never been invited into your life, by you.
It had all been by circumstance, by marriage to my cousin, but not by choice.
5. When you died
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 called, I was told it did not look ‘good’. I lit a storm light outside my boat. The tide was coming in.
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, at you.
I know you remained silent, in your rage.
I hear you died in the company of two friends. I hear your mum 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 never left your side in those weeks, and days and hours. But you were not to know, because you did not want to talk.
6. What’s left
I can think of some people who will not be able to cope, when it comes to my turn to die.
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 noticed after your death, I had longer periods of silence, and shorter conversations.
I am a silent person, anyway, but something turned inwards, more so than before.
Perhaps it was anger, perhaps fear, perhaps exhaustion.
I think death and grief can do that to people.
What’s left now, after those years, since I have been re-diagnosed with cancer?
I still want to talk about dying – but I am more selective about it.
Perhaps, I, too, when the time comes, may not want to talk about dying – who knows!
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