My mom is lying in a hospital bed. She is recovering from the surgery she had yesterday to deal with some of the effects of the ovarian cancer that she has been so valiantly battling for nearly two years.
I am lying in the reclining chair next to her, listening to the sounds of the machines that do whatever it is that they are doing to help her. Occasionally (pretty much every few minutes), I look over at her to make sure that her chest is still rising and falling with her breath, and find great comfort in the soft snore that is currently indicating her peaceful sleep.
Approximately 30 minutes ago, a haunting voice had echoed through the halls.
“There is a Code 1 alert in room 6612. There is a Code 1 alert in room 6612. There is a Code 1 alert in room 6612.”
I sat up as this awful chill coursed through my body. In the space of a second, a litany of terrifying questions and feelings of confusion filled my mind. Wait, what room are we in? I know we are close to there, but could that code be for our room? Is my mom hooked up to some machine that tells them something that I don’t know? Is she still breathing? What is happening?
Then, I saw the plaque on the wall.
We were in room 6610.
I didn’t know what “Code 1” meant exactly, but I felt this wave of nausea and devastation pass over me as I heard the scurrying sounds of hushed rushing, controlled frenzy, and pending crisis in the hallway. It was bad. It was looming. It was palpable. And, it was really close by.
I don’t know if it was the activity next door that pulled her out of her sleep, but my mom woke up about five minutes after the alarm sounded and asked me in her weak voice for some ice chips—the only thing that she is allowed to orally consume for a day or two after surgery. I would do anything for my sweet mom, anything in the world, and in that moment she wanted ice chips.
She was so thirsty and so frail.
I cautiously opened the door to her room, holding tightly on to my breath, just to determine if someone was available to help with my mom’s very simple request. See, the thing about being in the hospital with someone who has suffered more than any one person should ever have to suffer in ten lifetimes, is that you want to give them whatever they want, just to help them feel any tiny bit of comfort and ease. I opened the door, hoping that everything was OK next door, hoping that Code 1 didn’t mean what I feared it meant.
I heard someone say, “I still don’t have a pulse.”
He said, “I still don’t have a pulse.”
Hearing those words in real life is so much different than hearing them on Grey’s Anatomy. This was a real life, a real person. All of sudden, it felt like I was moving through honey. My skin literally felt sticky and it was like things were moving in slow motion.
The sweet woman from next door was fighting for her life, and quite possibly losing at that very moment. This woman whom I would likely never know, but who was physically so close, was dying.
Just a few hours before, I was sitting outside my mom’s room talking to a friend when this woman, whose name I don’t even know, turned on her call light requesting that the nurses come to her room. Two nurses went to her and after they asked her if she was OK, I heard her say so simply and so sweetly, “I just wanted company. I just didn’t want to be alone.”
She just didn’t want to be alone. Perhaps hours before her death, she just wanted to have someone near her.
I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if she died. I am too scared to open the door for fear of finding out that she is indeed gone. I know that the truth will reveal itself in the morning and for tonight, I’d like to keep our door closed so that we may stay as far away from it as possible. I look over at my mom who is here in this hospital because she, too, is fighting for her life.
Being this close to death is a wildly powerful experience. It is shocking and terrifying and profound in so many ways, and serves as the most compelling reminder that this life is so fragile and it is so temporary and it is so beautiful. Because we live, so shall we die. Because we die, so shall we live. Because we love, so shall we have loss. Because we have loss, so shall we love.
There is no beginning, there is no end, there is no separation. It is all part of this great big beautifully painful and painfully beautiful experience we call being human.
A very dear friend said to me today, “Think of 20 years from this moment and imagine yourself looking back on it with the fondness it deserves.” We never know when our time will come, nor do we know when it will be time for our loved ones that we hold so dear to move from this physical existence. We—well, I—spend so much time worrying about what is to come, but truly all I know is that there is this one moment. If we are lucky, we get the next moment too. But in this one right here and right now, I have the choice to make this a moment that I will treasure and find comfort in for—God willing and the creek don’t rise—years to come.
So, I look over at my mom and I feel so grateful that I get to tell her how much I love her tonight. I hold her hand and surround her with as much love as I can muster, hoping that she knows that she is not alone, that she will never be alone.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still terrified of losing her, but I know that she is still here right now. Losing her is a someday worry that I don’t need to attach myself to tonight. I’ll let Future Jennifer worry about that.
Present Jennifer gets to sleep beside her mom tonight, listening to her breathe, and loving her like crazy. Even though she won’t ever remember it, I know that I will, and that in 20 years, I will look back on tonight with the fondness it deserves.
And to the woman from room 6612, may you be at peace wherever you are. Thank you for touching our lives. Thank you for reminding us. May you never ever feel alone and may you feel eternally embraced by the Big Love.
While still an Indiana girl at heart, Jennifer Jarrett is currently a yoga teacher in San Francisco who loves to laugh until it hurts, snuggle with her Labradoodle, Ruby, and spend as much time as possible with friends and family. She teaches at Urban Flow, a donation-based studio that shares the practice of Bhatki Flow, the yoga of love and devotion. Follow Jennifer on Facebook at Jennifer Jarrett Yoga and on Twitter at jjyoga. Find her at jenniferjarrettyoga.com.