I walk around the corner and hold my breath. Through the kitchen, pause, turn into the family room and the breath just catches in my throat, the hard to swallow lost all moisture from my mouth remember to breathe moment is my morning jolt, along with dare I say it, … instant coffee.
I realize it is fear. I hate being afraid, not the movie is scary have to scream out loud hide my eyes afraid, that I handle quite nicely thank you. No, not nicely. I scream I hide my eyes, sometimes have to either leave the room or theater, or yell at the screen out loud, “DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!”… friends will not sit next to me at the movies anymore. Playful fear I have down.
It is the other, the not so playful paralyzing fear, that fills me with dread.
It is the fear of the not doing. The not doing and then, specifically the regretting.
Regret. A nasty, little, simple word that covers a world of pain. Regret. The coulda-woulda-shoulda’s of ones life can come back as often and painfully as a too garlicy buck and a half hotdog from Costco and leave just as nasty a taste in your mouth.
In this case, the fear is Hilda being gone when I round the corner, which is only heightened by the fear that I have missed her going completely. Coulda-woulda- shoulda been there….
Hilda is now ashen face, more than gray, a white washing of grey, she has no color, her eyes remain half open, her mouth open, breathing labored. Apnea comes to mind, the exhales that are forever, raspy and wet then give way to nothingness. The silence screams, it urges you to look, to watch closely, to witness. I glance at the clock, my eyes tick toward the clock, and back to Hilda, tick, toc, counting seconds, 2, 10, 15, 20, then it comes, at last, a long inhale, her chest rises slightly, a breath.
I do not know how she is still here. There must be something left to do, something else she needs to do or say before she goes.
The nurse asked me, “Did you tell her it was alright to go yet?”
“Yes, of course, ”
A total and outright fabrication, in other words, a big fat lie.
The work, the tasks of being a doula of death are the simple things, the easy things. Wash the sheets, brush her hair, cook, clean, wash, tend, wipe, cry, hand hold, watch and witness. The physical things busy me and truly free my mind. I go anywhere, anytime else, I am walking the beach, hiking Patagonia Lake finding petroglyphs, spying dolphins swim, and deep in conversation with Emily and Jane. My imagination and I are free when it is mere physical work.
My heart seems to pound louder as the nurse turns to leave, I think of Edgar Allen Poe, his Tell -Tale Heart, pounding pounding, this one is not under the floor, this one is trying to escape my chest. My mind rebels wants to invite Edgar to my dinners with Jane and Emily, but no, on second thought he might be too much of a downer.
“Sometimes they need to know everyone will be ok and then they are ok with leaving. As long as we are alive we are still able to learn, all the way up to the end of our lives.”
I’m nodding, silent on the outside, heart blasting a beat on the inside. I am tired of lessons. Crap this is hard, I want real brewed coffee, and a new novel, and my internet friends, that wonderful format of escapism that feigns intimate connections without all the sloppy real life stuff. I do not want to do this.
Then that little word pops up, regret. Yes, damn it I know, I know! I would regret it if I escaped, ran away, adios MF, see ya later alligator, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to think about it.
This part of being a doula of death, the emotional work is another burden altogether.
Conversations will have to go beyond my usual care taking speak,
“There you are, hairs brushed,… that’s better, or lets straighten that blanket,… fluff the pillow,… open the window, get a drink of water,… lower the bed,… change the channel,” – This speak I have down it is a busy intimacy of small words, not really dealing with anything moment to moment filling both her needs and the day.
I walk back into the family room, Griffy is outside watering his onion plants, I sit down and take her hand.
There is no way I could do this with an audience, just quit stalling and open your mouth chicken shit…
“Hilda, I know you have been watching from wherever you go,”…. No response.
“This internship I have been doing, caring for Griff…. you know we will take care of him right? I mean you know that?”
Still nothing. I sit and think a second should I really say the words? Regret is rising quickly, I just blurt it out.
“Hilda… Jackie is coming tomorrow, Gary and the girls are coming on Friday, but it is ok to go now, you are the boss, and I am here, between the both of us we have this covered.”
I got no verbal response, no fluttering of eyes, no little finger or hand squeezes, this is not the movies.
I hold her hand, rub her arm, … back to doing the easy part of being doula of death.