Have you ever sat at the bedside of a terminally ill person you loved, given comfort and learned more about your life and yourself than you ever thought possible?
As Anna lay dying –
We laughed our heads off when the ice-cream sprinkles got stuck on her nose. The cancer had spread from her ovaries to her lungs. And then to her kidneys. She had refused treatment. Her chemo-of-choice, she said, was the Mister Softee I would bring, with the scattered sparkles. “Don’t I look silly?” she asked, wiping her chocolate nose with the crumpled tissue she always had on her night table.
“And was it worth it?” I asked her. “This life thing.” And she thought for a minute and said, “I don’t think I laughed enough.” We laughed at that. “I think I sweated too much of the small stuff – like burning a soufflé.” “You’re a great cook,” I said. “I was,” she corrected me, and then added, “I don’t think I knew it would end, this life thing, but most importantly.” She smiled wickedly, “I don’t think I got laid enough.” “Oh please,” I remember saying. “When the goo is gone the glue is gone.” “You can buy that stuff,” she said, “Silly child.” She was two decades older than I was then.
“Are you scared of dying?” I asked. Death had openly entered the room barring euphemism. “When you get to my age,” she said softly, “you know more people on the other side then you do here. It gets lonely.” “Do you believe there’s an other side?” I asked. “Of course not!” she said, summoning strength. And for some reason we both found her response hilariously funny.
She was 85. I hoped to be like her when my time came. I enjoyed the rehearsal. I loved to visit her these months before the end. A dry run? A dress rehearsal? Maybe. Would I have her charm and courage? Would someone slightly behind me in time rehearse with me? Anna was precious. The battery clock near her bedside didn’t utter a sound but I heard its old-fashioned tick-tock, tick-tock and chimes rang. “I love you, Anna,” I said.
I would see her the same time next Sunday. “You don’t have to come,” she reminded me. “Many friends can’t bear to see me this way.” “The way you is, is the way you is,” I answered. She corrected my grammar. I kissed her cool cheek good-bye.
She asked me to pick up the chocolate Mr. Softee again next week. I said I would. And her voice followed me down the stairs. “And maybe could you bring some extra sparkles. The multicolored ones. They disappear so quickly.”
And thus she reminded me.