Final Chapter of The Long Road Home. Eric finally loses his battle with pancreatic cancer.
| As I sat in the chair beside his bed I tried to take in what was left of my best friend. It had been two months since I had last seen him and he had changed a lot.
His skin was a sickly grey and he no longer had any hair. What was once a muscular frame was now nothing more than skin and bones. Eric was, quite simply, wasting away.
His left hand twitched slightly and I covered it with my own. The coldness of it frightened me.
I didn’t move from where I sat for more than an hour. All I did was think over everything we had been through together. I thought again of the tree house in the woods; I thought again of our silent war Bear Hutchinson and his friends.
In the past I’ve lost loved ones but it’s never been like this. I’ve never actually watched them dying. It was painful. I finally understood the whole euthanasia issue where you feel in your heart that it would be better to just hold a pillow over his face until he stops breathing. Until he stops hurting. The cancer was robbing him of his dignity like it was robbing him of the remaining years of his life that he should have enjoyed.
Eric’s eyes fluttered open and slowly focused on me. He opened his mouth as if to speak but only coughed loudly.
“Hey,” I whispered, gripping his hand tighter.
He smiled, weakly. “You came back.”
I nodded. “Sarah’s outside. So are Adam and David.”
Eric’s eyes seemed to cloud over for a second then cleared again.
“Are you all right?” I asked. “Can I get you anything?”
He shifted in his bed. “Can you put the radio on? Play the Oldies. I’ve always liked the Oldies.”
I crossed the room the stand in front of an old wooden table where the radio stood. I pressed one of the many buttons on its face and the power indicator glowed orange. Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ played softly through the speakers.
I turned, meaning to say something to Eric, I don’t remember what, but he had fallen asleep once again.
David, Adam and I all took turns in the armchair beside Eric’s bed that night. I woke up numerous times from where Sarah and I were sleeping on the pull out bed to the sound of hacking coughs, followed by the soothing tones of one of my friends. When I was shaken awake by Adam for my shift it was nearing five in the morning and the black was growing lighter outside the window.
There was nicely worn ass groove in the chair by this time and I settled in, pulling a blanket over my legs. I could just make Eric out in the growing light, his chest rising and falling. His breathing had grown laboured, as if he was struggling for each lungful of air.
I must have dozed off because next time I looked at my watch it read half past seven. Even before I looked I knew he was gone. The room felt different; empty.
Rising from my chair, hands trembling, I stood at the foot of the bed. People say that when someone dies they look peaceful. That’s a lie. It didn’t look like Eric was sleeping or any of that bull shit you read in stories. The only way to properly describe it is dead.