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The Passing- an excerpt
The Passing- an excerpt
By Tony DeLorger © 2011
Suddenly, as if no time had passed at all, and amid this much needed oblivion, a loud, startling ringing echoed through the house. Josh jumped, his mind swaying back and forth, completely off balance, trying to align himself to some semblance of attention.
It was of course the phone and Josh squinted groggily at the bedside clock. It was only 6am. He dragged himself, half-conscious out of bed and zigzagged to the phone. ‘Hello?’ he said in a slightly slurred voice.
‘Thank God. We’ve been trying to contact you since last night. It’s Caringbah Hospital, I’m afraid your Mum’s taken a turn for the worse. Mr. Hayward, it’s her time- she’s dying. Please come quickly.’
Josh’s eyes suddenly found focus. ‘I’ll be there as soon as I can,’ he replied, hanging up the phone frantically. He immediately called Nic and Steve to come over and take care of the kids so he and Jane could leave. Their friends arrived in less than ten minutes.
Josh and Jane hurriedly left, hardly dressed and half-asleep. Josh drove on instinct alone, his mind a flood with emotions. Now that this time had actually come he felt a blind panic consuming him. He had mentally gone through all the motions of what was to come, but had done so detached and almost numb. Now everything seemed clear and the ferocity of the pain was overwhelming and it took all his effort to keep focused on the road. He had to get there in a hurry, and Jane sat back in her seat, white knuckled, holding desperately to her seatbelt while Josh wove in and out of the traffic.
Suddenly, out of the blue, the seatbelt alarm sounded and they both nearly jumped out of their skin, Jane letting out a muffled scream. The car was a new Mazda, with all the latest mod cons, which included an alarm for just about every function or function failure; seat belts, handbrake, door seals, key in ignition and the list went on. Josh resecured the belts several times but the alarm continued. His feeling of panic immediately escalated and he looked at Jane, who was now cowering in the front seat, an eerie feeling having overcome her. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, one by one, the other alarms began to sound. Josh felt a cold shudder wash over him.
‘It’s mum,’ he thought, afraid to say it out loud and hardly able to conceive of the possibility. Soon all the alarms were sounding, all with different melodies, all at once. It sounded like a carnival showground. The associated dashboard lights were flashing rhythmically, like some disco light show or an aeroplane in an emergency and going down. The hairs on the back of his neck suddenly stood up and he turned to Jane. She was obviously shaken- more than distressed.
‘It’s Mum, she’s telling us to hurry. I just know it!’ Josh snapped, more frantic, pushing his foot further down on the accelerator and sitting forward more determinedly.
The alarms continued to sound on and off the entire trip- all together like some frenzied warning. This happening was more than a little unnerving.
Eventually they arrived at the hospital. Josh found a car park and slammed on the brakes. Not even locking the car doors, they rushed frantically to the main entrance. As they entered the ward upstairs, the nurse immediately rushed over, just keeping up with them as they hurried towards Helen’s hospital bed. ‘She’s hanging on,’ said the nurse, directing them to a private cubicle just down from the bed, where Helen had spent the last twelve hours. As Josh entered the small room he saw that his aunts and uncles had already arrived.
Helen’s brother George, with his wife Shirley, her sister Joy with her husband Brian stood solemnly, waiting for the inevitable. Josh nodded to them in acknowledgment and sat down next to his mum, taking her slender hand in his. It felt warm but lifeless, her skin so fragile and transparent. Helen lay motionless, tucked neatly into the bed with her head propped up on two pillows. She appeared unconscious with her eyes closed, and wore a clear plastic oxygen mask over her mouth and nose. Josh looked sadly at her face. It was so pale and hollowed and her body was now reduced to just skin and bone. Her life was fading away in front of his very eyes, like an ebbing tide, gently and quietly pulling further and further away.
The sister quietly approached Josh and leaned over. ‘It won’t be long now, Mr. Hayward. Talk to her; she can’t respond, but she can hear every word,’ she whispered.
Josh moved closer, as the sound of muffled crying in the background gently filled the cubicle.
‘I’m here now Mum. I know you waited, but don’t worry, not about me. I’ll be fine; you did a good job, Mum.’
Josh paused, trying to hold back the tears. ‘I’m with you, don’t be scared, there’s nothing to be afraid of,’ he whispered, trying to somehow ease his own misgivings. He looked at her face and knew she had held on for so long, until he could get there. Josh leaned over and whispered in her ear. ‘It’s time. I’m here now- you can let go. You can let go now Mum.’
The tears were pouring down Josh’s face, like tiny streams they fell onto his arm, his clothes and onto the bed. He was shaking uncontrollably; the pain was unimaginable. It took all of his strength to keep his eyes open enough to see, to watch with a tormented heart, this woman who was his own flesh and blood, fade away so helplessly.
Josh kept clearing the tears from his eyes, to see what was happening. Helen’s breathing slowly changed, with each single breath like a strained, sharp gasping, followed by an almost undetectable exhalation, shallow but rhythmic. Josh noticed her neck, it seemed so thin now, a mass of muscles and arteries simply covered loosely with skin.
Josh watched the pulsing of her failing heart’s last hold on life. As it slowed, so did her breathing until with one final exhalation, her body settled. Josh quickly looked at Helen’s neck, and saw one pulse, then another slightly weaker, and then nothing.
With her hand still in his he stood up and stared down at her. She was motionless. Then unexpectedly her body twitched a little and a small parcel of congealed blood appeared from her mouth into the mask. Josh looked to his uncle, his face lost in the pain.
‘She’s gone, mate,’ said George, pursing his lips, barely containing his own tears. Jane came from behind and held Josh tightly, trying to surround him in comfort, desperately trying to take away the pain.
Josh thought he was at least a little prepared, but the reality of the experience was so different from his pre-conceived notion of it. He felt himself dissolve amid his outpouring as endless tears came from the depths of him, purging his very existence. He stood there in a flood of emotion, unable to curb the tide, unable to save himself. There was no control. Nothing existed except this reality of pain and loss. His mind was incapable of any thought and for that one moment in his life he simply was, nothing more.
The family stayed in the room for some minutes comforting each other as best they could. There were few words spoken, only the warmth of a shared tragedy enveloped them and kept them as one, in a huddle at the end of the bed.
Eventually the nurse returned and suggested they retire to a waiting room and have tea, while they cleaned Helen up, so they could all spend as much time as they wished to say goodbye.
They were led into an adjoining room filled with lounge chairs and small coffee-tables. Josh could barely see through the tears that continued unabated. He sat down rather awkwardly and tried to pull himself together, but to no avail. George and Joy were much the same; they were an emotional family.
The staff soon brought the tea, and the mere fact of having to deal with it, helped a little. Josh quieted down and took a sip, still trying to calm his erratic breathing. He looked sadly at Joy, whose face was an absolute picture of despair. Joy looked so much like her sister, and at that moment, for Josh, it didn’t help.
‘She went peacefully, didn’t she?’ he asked. Joy tried to smile, but failed and simply nodded, attempting to hold herself back.
‘I don’t know what we’ll do without her,’ added George, wiping his face with a tissue, not yet coming to terms with the reality.
Josh’s eyes wandered the corridor. He was blindly attempting to clear his mind, to temporarily relieve the pressure. From where he sat he could see the cubicle and the nurses going in and out, cleaning up and changing Helen’s bed covers. When they had finished and had removed the soiled linen, Josh was floored when he saw his mum, as clear as day, walk nonchalantly out of the cubicle wearing a fresh dressing-gown and slippers. She immediately saw Josh and smiled. He jumped to his feet in shock. His mind was in a spin, in a quandary. How could this be?
Helen relinquished the smile, waved, then turned and went to shuffle off to her hospital bed back in the ward. Josh suddenly understood, in some instinctive way.
‘Mum, you don’t have to go back there. You’re free of all that now. You can go,’ he said to himself, and strangely, to his mother.
She stopped and looked at him inquisitively, responding to his silent plea but hardly understanding it. Then Harold appeared from the cubicle with an impatient look on his face and took Helen by the arm and led her back inside. As soon as she saw Harold her face lit up and she happily and rather mindlessly went with him, chattering all the way.
‘Josh, are you all right?’ sounded a voice in the dim background. ‘Josh?’
Josh stood there, his mouth gaping, in total disbelief of what had just happened. But as the sounds of concern in the background seemed to become louder, he suddenly felt relieved somehow, feeling that his mum would now be all right.
‘Darling? Are you OK?’ asked Jane, more than a little concerned. Josh suddenly found himself standing in the middle of the waiting room surrounded by his relatives, staring blankly down the corridor.
‘Oh! Sorry. I’m OK,’ he replied, sitting down, a little embarrassed and more than confused. He sipped his tea and felt sudden warmth envelop his body. It felt strangely calming and relieved much of his anxiety. He didn’t understand it, but it was welcomed.
A young nurse popped her head around the corner. ‘You can see her now, if you wish,’ she said kindly, then disappeared. Josh looked at everybody calmly, then took a deep breath.
‘I’d like to see her alone, if that’s OK?’ he asked.
‘Of course Josh, all the time you want,’ said Joy.
Josh squeezed Jane’s hand and made his way down the corridor to the cubicle. He hesitantly stepped inside and stood next to the bed. The nurse quietly closed the door behind him.
Josh carefully studied his mum. Her face appeared as merely bone with skin loosely draped over the top. This wasn’t Helen, his mum, it was an empty shell, a vessel dry of life. Josh felt another wave of warmth come over him, and he suddenly realised Harold was standing behind him, with his large warm hand placed consolingly over his shoulder.
‘Talk to her Josh. Tell her,’ he whispered softly. Josh felt his emotion welling up again, his mind spinning out of control. But then that warmth, Harold’s calming presence yet again, took hold. Josh straightened himself, and looked down at his mum.
‘Oh Mum, I’m so sorry,’ he began, trying to hold back the tears enough to speak. ‘I’m sorry you won’t see the kids grow up. I’m sorry you won’t see that I’m OK.’
As those last words parted his lips he broke down once again, unable to hold back any longer. He crouched down by the bed and tried to continue.
‘I love you Mum. I’m sorry for all the things I’ve done to you. You’ve had a hard life, I know,’ he finished, placing his head down on the bed beside her, crying unabashedly, his pain and anguish simply tearing him apart. With his head still buried deeply in the bed covers he pleaded-
‘Please Harold, take care of her?’ then continued to sob mournfully.
When finally his body could take no more and the tears had subsided, Josh slowly and weakly rose to his feet. He looked down upon Helen’s gaunt, sallow face, leaned over and kissed his mother gently on the forehead and could still feel the warmth of her body against his lips.
‘Goodbye Mum, I’ll try to make you proud,’ he said softly as he turned and left her for the last time.
'Harold Be Thy Name' by Tony DeLorger available on line through Digital Print Australia.