Life Hangs On
[After reading Starfish by Eleanor Lerman]
This is what life does: it battles to hang on. It doesn’t say “I've had enough, let’s call it a day.” Instead it keeps cells multiplying and dividing, air moving through scarred lungs, blood moving through tired veins. (And before I know it I am writing about your last days and hours of life.)
What was it like for you in there? You really didn’t share much with us other than the air and the sunlight. The cat would sit on your chest, but she never did steal your breath. That turned out to be an old wives’ tale after all. You lay there, and life wouldn’t stop, even after so much of living had stopped. There was life in the old girl yet, beneath the taut skin and behind the vacant stare.
I knew we had agreed that you wanted to be pain free. That was a blessing -- that knowledge, and the fact that you actually were comfortable. Weren’t you? The absolute worst moments were a few nights before, when you were really crying and suffering and asking me to make it stop: all I could do was climb into your deathbed with you and hold you close, metal hospital bed rails sticking cold on my back, birds gradually waking up with dawn, your moaning going up and down as the drugs and pain and tenacious life worked on each other. But somehow we got past that night, and then it was just long days of life breathing and peeing. Not much else that it was doing from what I could tell. But what could I tell? You always cautioned me about judging people from the outside. I hope you were on some lovely voyage in there, using last dregs of life to replay fullness of life.
You came out of there once or twice. I’m grateful for that. I will always, always remember our final kiss, on Friday night. Shabbat candles burning. Tears in my eyes (and again as I write). I leant in for your lips. You said nothing, but you kissed me back. Thank you for that. The first kiss is long gone, but the last is one I will have forever.
And I hope the music was soothing. I thought you would like some old folk rockers to ease your passage. Some old Communists, actually, Billy Bragg and Phil Ochs. Then I thought, “why don’t I play her what she used to play on her radio show, back at the first kiss -- back when life and living were one and the same.” That’s why I got out the old cassette, to read the playlist and search Spotify for the songs and play them for you. And you, over there by the window listening or journeying, or just breathing and waiting. Life was not letting go of you yet. Until at some unspoken, unspeakable moment cells stopped dividing and breath stopped coming and everything was quiet. Everything except the kids next door and the birds and the leaves of the trees.
That’s what life does -- it moves from being to being and holds on as long as it can.