A Child Again

Tethered to that bed.
Burdened by dying.
Age-hardened veins silting. Staining

Capillary bed and blackening skin from toe-tip,
up through shin and thigh and hip.
Diluted only by the saline drip, drip, drip,
ticking in time to the ward clock
and the oxygen feed.

Face tight muzzled by the mask.
Flesh swollen, hard-bitten, by thick black straps.

There is now the desperate need for acts of caring.
A glycerine swab for parched lips and cracked, swollen tongue.

My husband removes his father’s mask. Gently. Stroking and kissing the strap indents across his misshapen face
and death comes now in chain-stoking pauses fracturing our living.

Is there a protocol for this?
What must be done? Should be done?
I fuss with washing, brought fresh with us, in the rush from home to hospital.
Here are the pyjamas, bought in the daylight when he was alive and with intent.
Here are the unguents he enjoyed.
But with which we now anoint.

The doors twitch and open and nurses come with empty hands.
With professional pity and platitudinous glance.

There is the coughing of old men, whose time is not yet, from beyond the island we have made for ourselves in this glassed-off periphery.

We are not of any world I know. This twilight before dawn, when the breath grows harder to draw and life ebbs to its lowest.

This is the time for last words.

I love you. Please don’t die. Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.

And I watch my husband become a child again.

At 5.30am we leave that place for the last time.
My husband turns to me and says, plaintive in a child’s voice

I am an orphan now.

And weeps.

8 thoughts on “A Child Again

  1. It's taken a few days (bearing in mind I'm a day ahead of you) to realise that this is a reflection of the past. It's opened a lot of floodgates. Which is, of course, the essence of good writing.

  2. I watched my husband go thought this when his mother died – you have captured it so perfectly – the eventual realisation that they are an orphan you write about in your next post ( reading backwaards …)
    i cried because I have yet to face it with my ageing parents – and while grateful and appreciative of their amazing longevity, I have to live each day appreciating their life not fearing their death, which I can at times.
    Thoughts with you both

  3. I understand just how you feel about your Mum and Dad.
    My parents are still relatively young – 71 and 68. But I notice the little frailties and declines now and cannot stop myself occasionally – from fearing the time they will not be here.
    Also – the older I get the more I am mindful that we all come to our end. It's not morbid – somehow it increases appreciation of 'the now'.
    My father-in-law died almost 10 years ago. He lived with us – or we with him. His strokes came when my husband was 12 – and after the death of his wife – my mother-in-law. He had a multiplicity of needs. But I think he enjoyed being part of a growing family. 14 years after I'd met him – and been his carer – he died of a femoral blockage and pneumonia.

  4. This is a most powerful and moving piece of writing. It's rare to find such honesty about these end of life matters which really need to be discussed openly.

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