My father had called me at 1:30pm to tell me he was on his way to his sister’s house because the hospice nurse said based on her breathing, it would be a matter of hours.
At 4pm he texted me, “she’s gone.”
“She’s gone,” I read aloud to my husband who was tiling our kitchen wall, his hands covered in mastic.
“Oh, I’m sorry babe,” he says and I nod. We had been waiting for her to take a final breath so we can somehow stop holding ours. A knot formed in my stomach, in my throat.
“I want to save my tears for the funeral,” I say inhaling a staccato breath. “I’ve cried so much for her already.” I want to linger in this transition for a minute (or a day) where I could continue to exist comfortably in my apartment, surrounded by health and warmth and repeat to myself how she is off to a better place, that she isn’t in pain anymore, that she isn’t suffering, that she is going to become one with the earth now and surround us.
I could say all that but it’s not necessarily how I feel.
The analogy I feel is “dry socket.”
A few weeks ago when I broke my tooth, I joked with my husband that the dentist should just “pull it.” He went on to do some improvisational stand-up, whereas I peed through two pairs of pants (not at once) where he made fun of me going so extreme when it could just involve a minor repair. “It’s not so simple to just pull a tooth,” he said. “When I had my wisdom teeth pulled they scared me with dry socket. I spent my entire recovery preoccupied with not getting dry socket.”
“What is it exactly?” I asked but instantly had a theory about what it would feel like.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted, “Only that it would be painful as heck.”
Before I Googled the actual medical description for “dry socket,” I imagined it felt like a tooth gets ripped out of your mouth and leaves a gaping hole where the healthy tissue of your gum has to stretch and morph and fuse together to cover the void left behind.
I’m in the “staying busy” phase. I am calling my sister in Maine and arranging the logistics for her to come down; I am giving out the address to the funeral to extended family; I am making arrangements for a babysitter for my six-year-old daughter. (I am writing through it all.)
“She died at 3:55pm,” my father said. “I knew the moment she was gone. I saw the pain leave her body and watched her face relaxed. I checked her pulse and it was silent. I used a hand mirror and placed it under her nose.”
I imagine these last few hours with her, watching her slip from one world to the next, will haunt him for the rest of his life. He will echo the same sentiments we all do, relieved her suffering is over, but he was also a baby brother watching his big sister die. He doesn’t know a world without his smaller, older sister, whose life he always carried on his shoulders along with his. Maybe the physical load he totes will be lighter, but the grief is bound to weigh heavy for a while.
The funeral is Sunday. We will bury her deep into the earth in a pine box and say some traditional prayers. We will formally say goodbye to my aunt; a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend. She was the kindest person I ever had the honor to know and as much as I’ve used my words to cope with her departure, I can’t imagine stringing together a cohesive series of sentences to say at her funeral. My words could never fuse together the void she leaves behind.