I thought she would say no. I thought she would say, “No, Emily. Go home and sleep in your own bed. Call your boyfriend, make tea, fall asleep with a book lying open on your chest.”
In a quiet voice, she said, “Yes. I’m just a little nervous being here alone. But only for the first night.”
There are many ways in which people die.
Some people die suddenly in car accidents. Some people die in their sleep. Sometimes it’s instant. Sometimes it’s quick. Sometimes you’re on this planet, reaching for your cup of morning coffee, and the next minute, you’re staring at yourself while people try to revive your heart that suddenly stopped beating. Sometimes, you kiss your kids and your partner goodnight. And then, you don’t wake up.
You see, dying in palliative care is very different. Palliative is where you go to die. You don’t go to get healed or treated. You don’t go to recover. You go because you know your time is limited, and you want to ease everyone else’s lives around you by having doctors and nurses take care of you, instead of your loved ones.
Isn’t it ironic? The same building we’re born in is the same one we die in.
I set up my contact lens case and solution beside her toothbrush.
The bathroom walls were painted a gross, hospital green. The floor was cold underneath my bare feet.
I closed the lid on the toilet seat and sat down. I shut my eyes and transported my mind back to 2014. We were getting ready together for dinner in a hotel bathroom in Boston. We had spent all day vintage shopping on Newbury Street. I remember she bought herself a gold watch with a white stripe down the middle. She gave it to me after she started her chemo treatments.
“I don’t think I’ll be wearing jewelry for a while”, she said.
I opened my eyes. I was back in the bathroom with the gross, green walls. I stood up and began my nightly skincare routine with the awful bathroom lighting.
The nurse brought in a cot. My mom asked me a billion times if I was warm enough, and I thought to myself, “She’s the one who’s dying, and she’s the one who’s worried if I’m warm enough.”
I had realized there were only two other times where I slept beside my mom in a hospital bed. Once was after the first time she had her first surgery, and I cried underneath a blanket the whole time. The second time was when I was born, where I also most likely cried underneath a blanket the whole time.
We said goodnight to each other, but I don’t remember sleeping that night.
All I remember was thinking if I wished this nightmare to be over, then she would have to die.
I love you, more.
I’ve come to realize that I have a special talent for pretending everything is perfect, when in fact, the world is quite literally falling apart.
A friend once said to me, “Not everything is always “ya ya ya, totally”, Emily.”
I don’t remember when I decided to stop feeling anything.
It might have been the moment where I helped her pack her suitcases for palliative care.
It might have been the moment she gave me her jewelry before she started her treatments.
It might have been the moment on that last Mother’s Day where she waved out the car window, shouting, “I love you more!” as my dad drove her back to the hospital.
He would later tell me she broke down in the car that evening.
Maybe I decided to stop feeling anything because I knew that no one would ever love me as much as she did, and no one was ever going to ask me again if I needed an extra blanket as they lay dying.
And as she and I packed up her suitcases that day, part of me must have thought, “You see Emily, love really doesn’t matter. Because no matter how much someone loves you, we all must die.”
And maybe that day was the beginning of the end.
And as I write this now, tears roll down my face because I truly realize what pretending not to cry means.
As I coat my eyelashes with mascara each morning, “We all must die” floats through my mind. So the failed expectations and the heartbreak that I felt from him, doesn’t seem as painful anymore. But it’s a double-edged sword because then the love never seems as real.
We are all stories.
So I’m forced to write.
You see, writing down our stories is a way of playing god.
We can give ourselves the answers we want, the answers we need, and the answers we crave.
Some of our stories have left us open and bruised. Some of our stories run through our veins, from our fingers to our toes.
We breathe our stories. I breathe her death and I breathe his heartbreak.
But when we take our pen to paper.
When we write down our pain, our heartbreak, our thoughts that consume us, the control they have over us lessens.
Things happen to us in life because they are stories that need to be told.
And these stories will always be a part of us.
But, we are the authors of our own stories. And even if the endings are already written in the stars, it is up to us on how, when, and if, we choose to breathe them.