This story is by LM Johnston and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jane quickly entered the room she had left a couple of hours before and glanced at the bed on her right. She saw the bedsheet moving up and down with each labored breath. She was both glad and sad. He had survived the time it had taken to go home and freshen up. Strains of ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ gently played in the background. A memory of them singing into a wooden spoon surfaced. They had nothing on Bobbie Gentry.
A nurse bustled in and headed to the drip bag. “Good morning, Jane. Feel better?” she asked. She began the routine of checking the lines, the monitors and updating his chart.
“As good as can be expected, I guess. At least I feel clean.” Jane liked this nurse. She was kind without dripping sympathy. It was hard enough when her friends dropped by to lend their support. She barely held it together then.
The door opened slowly. Dr. Talbot entered the room. “Good morning, Jane.” He nodded to the nurse and picked up the chart. Silence descended, broken by the beeps of the monitors. At last, the doctor made his way to the bed for his turn to examine Jack. Jane wasn’t sure what he was checking. It was obvious to her that Jack wouldn’t make it much longer.
The doctor stepped back and motioned Jane to follow him outside the room. He led her to a room a few doors down and entered. She was surprised to see three people already seated. Dr. Talbot sat down and pointed to the empty chairs. “Please have a seat.” The kind nurse (Jane couldn’t remember her name) hurried into the room after them.
Her palliative care team, assigned six months ago when Jack was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, were all there. They were her source of information, her cheerleading squad and her listening group. Jane had always thought she could handle whatever life could throw at her and yet, she knew that without the people at the table, she would have crawled into a hole and stopped functioning. Not what Jack needed.
Dr. Talbot looked at the others and took a breath as if steeling himself for the discussion ahead. “Jane, I know this is a really difficult time. All of us here want this part of the journey to be as painless as possible. Jack took us all by surprise when he deteriorated so quickly.” The others at the table nodded.
“We know that Jack is not going to recover from this. The question we have to ask ourselves is “Should we let nature take its course or should we end Jack’s suffering now?” As Jack’s representative, only you can make that decision. I wish there was a way to make this easier for you. Unfortunately, our hands are tied.”
“How long does he have?” Jane asked.
“Could be a few hours or a few days. I would say no more than a week.”
Jane felt the tears finding their way down her cheeks. It was her rock they were discussing. “Jack didn’t think that it was right for us to “Play God with our time of passing”. I argued with him saying that I didn’t want him to suffer when his time came. Now that his time is here, I don’t want him to go.”
Jenny, considered one of the best psychologists in the field of death, dying and bereavement, looked at Jane. “Why don’t you sit with him and talk to him about it one more time? He can hear you and it will help you to figure out what to do.”
Jane looked at her blankly. She slowly got up from the chair and made her way to his room. She sat in the chair beside the bed, lifted his hand and sat in silence. Nothing in her 35 years prepared her for this. He was at the center of her universe and she didn’t know what she would do without him. He always told her that he fell in love with her the very first moment he saw her. She, on the other hand, had to grow into the love that was the mainstay of her life. Even when they fought fiercely, she knew that he loved her and could count on him to be there no matter what.
She squeezed his hand and whispered how much she loved him. Slowly, Jane found the words to continue. She reminded him of the funny memories they had made together; of summers spent in the cottage that had no washroom and the animals they encountered on their trips to the outhouse; of travels taken together to explore this great country. Next, she talked of the hard times they had shared; of when her Mom had died and of his cancer journey. Then came the part about doctor’s request. She told him how torn she was, that she did not want him to go but she didn’t want him to suffer either.
Silence descended in the room as Jane sat back in the chair, her face wet. She looked out the window to the tree ablaze in orange. Jack had always loved the Fall. He always said that it was God’s way of learning how to paint.
The playlist had cycled back to ‘Ode to Billie Joe’. She hummed the final strains under her breath all the while looking at the tree. Jack suddenly took a big breath and exhaled. She waited for the next. It never came.
Still she waited. Comprehension lit her soul. She stood up, leaned over the bed to kiss his forehead. “There’s my answer. Safe journey, Dad.”