“Tell him you love him,” they insisted.
We were huddled around the large hospital bed which had swallowed my husband. He was scarcely conscious, eyes no longer open, his mouth nothing more than a pink paper cut, and that once prominent barrel chest sunk. My five children were crowded behind me, urging me forward. I stiffened my back and held my ground. They were all in various states of hysterics, even my boys.
Swollen eyed and convulsing they caressed his hands and face. They thought they were saying goodbye. They weren’t. They were clutching a drowning man, an already dead man, trying to memorize his fading features, watching his torso with its fragile movements for that moment when it would rise no more, mixing like the sun and the sea their memories of who he was and who he would be, desperately trying to force themselves to come to terms with his death that hadn’t yet come.
“Tell him you love him, mom,” they insisted again.
They were convinced he was at the gates that separated this life and the next and my words were the ticket that would allow him to pass. They thought I was grace. Even as grown adults their sentimentality was breathtaking. What was now happening was between Bill and God and there was no space between them. As far as my husband of fifty odd years, we said our goodbyes before this final bit of theater at home, in our bedroom, where I was unable to let him take in his last breath and which will be my last regret as a married woman. But I knew I’d have to do this. He knew too. Even now, lying there slipping away he was amused by all this – charmed by my fierce reluctance. Go ahead. For them. Then he called me Pigeon.
I closed my eyes and placed my hands on top of his. Behind me the tides were rising in their eyes and they clung together like rats. This was the performance they wanted. He was already urging me to relax, whispering it’s nearly over.
“I love you Bill.”
Then he was gone.
The small white hospital room erupted in tears. Getting the finale they wanted my children left me and fell in a heap like soiled laundry on the chairs behind me.
Turning around I found my oldest child, Bill junior, the one closest in appearance and personality to my husband and said, “I want to go home.” My other children Martha, Margaret, Judy and Derek all thought it was too soon, tried to coax me into sitting down, to be with him, pray, but Bill junior did as he was told, collecting my things, handed me my purse, and pushed through the pink darting eyes and muffled disappointed voices, refusing to look as the hospital disappeared in the side mirror of my son’s shaking car.
About the author:
David Haight was born in Minneapolis and educated at Hamline University where he received a degree in English and Philosophy and later an MFA in writing where he was distinguished by the Quay W. Grigg award for Excellence in Literary Study. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Lynn. He published his first novel Overdrive in 2006, his second Me and Mrs. Jones in 2012 and is currently working on a collection of short stories.