There’s something I need to tell you; You are dying.
Breathe. Don’t shake. Don’t sob. Don’t scream. Don’t fall to the floor. Don’t scream to a God you never believed in until this moment.
Because it’s ok. I am dying too.
And so is your neighbour. Your class mates. Your colleagues. The man who swore at you in traffic today, and your favourite barrister. Your lover, your friend and your enemy.
This week during my nursing studies, I saw a Seasoned Paramedic of 15 years. He is solid, stony faced. His hair recedes, and it only further reminds you that he has strength above the rest of us. He spoke with purpose. He was sure that if he was careful, if he distanced himself from ‘the deceased’, it wouldn’t hurt.
I saw this teenage boy dead on a table of the shed. They had cut the noose down, laid him there, expecting us to save him. And I turned to them. And I just said ‘I’m sorry, but your son has died’.
And then he broke. I watched this man sob hysterically. His lips danced a tragic wobble. The tears streamed, unrestrained and ashamed. And the whole while he apologised to a lecture theatre full of weeping students.
I’m sorry, I’m just so sorry.
And I didn’t understand. None of it. Why are we sorry for grieving? Why can’t we cry?
And why are we so afraid of dying?
When I was fourteen, I saw a girl of the same age. She was dying. A naso-gastric tube snaked from her button nose, and tucked behind her ear. The yellow plastic almost looked pretty with her stark skin. Almost. She was bald. So completely, hopelessly bald. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were but a memory. Mummy and I bumped into her and her Mummy outside the Royal Children’s hospital. I wasn’t sure who was more tired out of the pair. Mummy murmured. Sorry darling. I wasn’t sure why Mummy was sorry. I didn’t think that it had anything to do with bumping on a path.
My heart broke for this girl without a name. She looks so sick Mummy. I think she’s dying. Mummy choked back the sobs. I now realise that Mum saw what I couldn’t. There were two dying girls on the footpath that day.
Sometimes I wonder. Why didn’t they tell me? Why didn’t they tell me that I was going? Were they scared? Were they worried that I would be sad? Or did they just refuse to believe it?
It was ok though. I already knew. When a baby is stillborn, they are often described as born sleeping. And by the age of fifteen, I understood why. When you are dying, you sleep. Your parents feed a little dribble of mush into your mouth, and you go back to sleep. They bathe you, and apologise when you wince. And then you sleep. Mummy places the poisons into your bloodied, cracked mouth. And then, you sleep.
Not a day goes by that I do not understand that I am a miracle. I was saved. Maybe it was God’s will. Maybe it was a doctor’s willing. Maybe I just didn’t want to write a will.
But they dying didn’t stop.
There was J. He was gorgeous. Serious and wonderful in the same ragged breath. Together, for months, we fought in hospital together. Slowly, slowly I listened to him cough to death. Every morning it began. Through the curtains I would hear the disease shred apart his lungs, and splatter into plastic. And every morning I would wince.
I just wanted to tell him I was sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it stop.
There was M. We met only but the briefest of moments. Her smile was shy, her eyes were wild, the feeding tube poison to her mind. We were in the hospital garden. We chatted and smiled; I saw past the disease. I saw that she was beautiful. And in that moment, we understood one another.
Three years later, at fifteen, she tumbled from a bridge to heaven. Some people think she was selfish. I just think that she was tired. And I still think she is beautiful.
There was another M. Her admission began as mine ended. We had but a week of gentle glances, quiet awkward conversation. I was jealous of her wicked smile, her complete confidence in herself. After months, it was finally time to go home. We waved goodbye to one another. I wished her good luck. She wished me the same.
She died. I didn’t. And I was sorry. Maybe I should have wished a little bit harder.
And then there was T. It was a friendship of dreams and nightmares. We loved through Chemotherapy, rehabilitation. She is the most beautiful girl that I have ever seen. We both knew; we always knew. Dying. We never said the word; we didn’t need to. We planned our heaven. Her wings were going to be the most gentle shade of pink, mine turquoise. We disagreed, for the first time. ‘It’s goodbye’. I told her not to say such things. I told her it was ‘See you later’. That night she wrote. She said it was only see you later. She said she would always be there, and I smiled. She had her bucket list, and we ticked off as many we could. People smiled at the two beautiful blondes on the double Decker bus. They wouldn’t be smiling if they knew the truth. That the blonde was a wig, and that the bus was a final wish. But we smiled, until our powdered cheeks hurt.
There was dinner overlooking the city lights. She screamed. Look how pretty they are Jess! Just look how pretty they are. We both pretended she wasn’t in pain. I had to leave first. She stood out of her wheelchair for a last photo, our last cuddle. She didn’t just hug; she hugged with her entire heart. And then we waved. We waved ‘see you later’.
When her Mummy called, I knew. I fell to the floor.
I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.
My heart was ripped and sold to grief. The lumps in my throat now threaten to give way to tears. And maybe you cry too. Maybe you see us in the street, wheelchairs and tubes, bald heads and oxygen cannulas. I know we make you weep. You see the caskets of purple. The butterfly tattoos on teenage girls, too young for ‘rest in peace’ to forever be etched on our skin and hearts. The feature stories in the newspaper, the obituaries which follow months later. And you weep.
I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this. I don’t understand why I lived. I don’t understand why my friends do not. I do not know why my friend had to bury her friend yesterday, another lost battle, another girl too darn beautiful to leave. The religious tells me it’s God’s plan. The doctors say that sometimes there is nothing they can do. The atheists tell me they aren’t hurting now, they feel nothing now.
I just know that I love them. And that you and I are still alive.
You are going to die. And I know you shake your head. I am not sick. I look both ways before crossing the road. I take my vitamins. I have curtain airbags. We don’t have a history of Breast Cancer. I already had smoke detectors installed. I swim between the flags.
And you are still going to die. And sometimes I think maybe you are already dead. Why does it take illnes? Why does it take someone like me, like my friends? Why does it take a wheelchair and little coffins to make you start living?
The bills are piling up. She won’t share custody. The kids at school give me shit for being smart. My relationships never work out. My girlfriend cheated on me. Dad is never home. It’s too hard to kick the drugs. Life just isn’t fair.
The difference between you and I is that you have too many excuses for not living.
I don’t have the luxury of excuses.
Each and every day I hear something which you could never understand. My friends, who are desperately fighting for their lives, clinging onto what they have left.
I am so lucky.
We are lucky because we know something that you do not. We know that we are not here forever. We know that life isn’t fair. And we know that tomorrow may never come. And that is why we do something different to the rest of you; that is why we live.
We sneak partners into our hospital beds, and make tender love with the moonlight peeking through the curtains and IV’s. We sneak through different wards at 3 in the morning, Spies with IV’s. Giggling girls searching a hospital for the Vending machines with the Twisties. And for the rest of the night we know that we laughed when we had no reason to.
We race IV’s through hospital corridors and shape them into the boyfriend of our dreams. Woollen hair and gloved hands. And we go to sleep knowing he is always there, holding our hand.
We laze around a fireplace, heat packs clutched to the organs aching the most. We tell dirty jokes, and plan relationships which do not exist. We scream with laughter and, for a while, we forget that she needs a transplant and that I need a desperate cure. And we laugh until it hurts. And we don’t care, not a bit. For once we are glad to hurt.
We lean around a table and watch him snort salt and pepper. We roll in the ground, and are sheepish when caught. The doctors on camp check our pumps, feed us our meds. And once the coast is clear, the snorting starts all over again.
We join the scars on our tummies, one after the other. And finally you see our Picasso; You see the smiley face. A smiley face made from screams and sobs. It is the best smiley face of them all.
They steal my wheelchair, and race down the hill. Nurse and patient, hooning and knowing full well that they are going to be in trouble. But neither care. The sun is kissing our skin, and for now, there are no transfusions, no seizures needing to be held. It becomes legend. And the wheelchair is never the same again.
We are fighting, and some of us are dying. But most of all, we are living. When we die, be sorry. Be sorry that we couldn’t make it. Cry for us, and make sure we are not forgotten.
But then go and live.
Go and kiss and scream with laughter, and finally confess your love.
Just make sure you live, so that you aren’t sorry. So that when your time comes, you aren’t sorry you didn’t live.