The bittersweet end to a young mother's pain.
|Amelia opened her eyes and could see. Not just blurry lights and changing shadows, but she could truly see. She lifted her hand, examining its uniqueness, its complexity. My hand. She could move it.
Before she had fallen asleep she was blind. She couldn’t move, not as much as a finger without burning agony upon an already constant torment. Her affliction had taken everything.
But, this time when she awoke there was no pain. Where has it gone? The agony that robbed her of any peaceful sleep, it had vanished. She routinely endured short naps ever interrupted by bouts of misery. It would ebb and wane throughout her sleep, rousing her constantly. That was the worst part, she knew. Pain she could suffer through, so long as she could embrace the succor of sleep, the delivery of her body from torment even if only for a while. But for so long, it had not been so. Now the pain— it was gone.
Amelia moved each part of her body with caution from smallest to largest until she was satisfied that everything worked, worked as it had before the disease had overtaken her. She expected some reprisal from the nightmare that tortured her. But none came.
She turned her head toward the bedroom doorway and let her face sink into the thick coolness of the pillow. She noticed the smell for the first time. It was clean, but not like she remembered. No, this was a sterile clean, absent lavender or lemon. It smelled of powerful detergent, like alcohol and bleach.
She saw lights and shadows dancing together upon the white six panel door, half open. She heard the television turned down low, perhaps so it would not disturb her. She smiled at the sound of little Kylie, her almost two year old daughter jabbering to her father.
Amelia met her husband Marshal when they were in college. She fell in love with him early on, his dark curly hair and strong features saw to it. She thought of his icy blue eyes and how they seemed to melt when they looked into hers. It was her dream to become a nurse and his, an engineer. Both of their dreams came true. Kylie was born and everything seemed so wonderful. It wasn’t until six months later that everything fell apart.
The doctors discovered the cancer during an x-ray. At first they suspected that she had contracted pneumonia. The imagery showed otherwise. The cancer was everywhere. She didn’t feel any different, save the cough. The doctors assured her, that would change. And it did.
Amelia fell to the disease rapidly. She was bedridden by the month's end. The doctors prescribed chemotherapy and radiation until she was too weak to endure either. She was dying. They told her she had two, maybe three weeks left. She showed them how strong she was. She outlived their estimation.
The shadows on the door darkened, piquing Amelia’s interest. She lifted her head to see why. Marguerite appeared. She was Amelia’s hospice nurse. She came every day. She wore a mask of grief on her normally stolid face. It wasn’t necessary. Amelia knew it wasn’t. She could move, see, hear― all without the pain― that terrible pain.
Amelia sat up and swung her feet to the floor. She expected a reaction from Marguerite, surprise, joy— but the old nurse only looked at her, deepening her frown. Amelia rose up on unsteady feet and in three steps was all but dancing across the floor. She was grateful to Marguerite for all she had done, but the nurse would have to wait. She needed to see her family. To hold them, to tell them how much she loved them and that everything would be alright.
She paused in the doorway to watch Kylie as the little girl stacked three blocks atop the coffee table in infinite arrangements. Marshal lay back in the soft cushions of their old couch. It was tattered and an ugly shade of red, but it was so very comfortable. Marshal often fell asleep on it. Amelia felt an old pang of envy. He loves that couch more than me, she mused.
Amelia soared into the room, expecting to be met by Marshal’s sudden surprise. No luck though, he was asleep. He checked on her with more diligence than any nurse would— so sweet and loving. I’ll let him sleep. He deserves a rest, thought Amelia. The young mother made her way to Kylie. She put her fingers under the little girl’s chin with gentle affection, affection reserved just for children.
Amelia tugged gently on Kylie’s chin. The child turned to face her with bright blue eyes. “Mama,” uttered the little girl, before turning back to her blocks.
Amelia felt warmth come over her body. She saw a light. A warm illumination came from nowhere and everywhere— all at once. She should have been confused. She knew that much and so much more with every passing second. “Oh—” said Amelia with a sigh, resignation mixing with joy.
“Mama,” uttered Kylie once more.
“Shh, Mama’s sleeping, Honey. She needs her rest,” said Marshal stirring from his nap. He rubbed his eyes feeling guilty for having dozed while watching Kylie. He couldn’t be blamed. Who wouldn’t be exhausted in his place?
“Mama bye bye,” answered the little girl. “Mama bye bye.”
Marshal opened his mouth to reply, but his words caught in his throat when the figure of Marguerite appeared in the doorway, her expression not quite right. She was looking at her watch.
“Marguerite?” croaked Marshal. He had known what would come, that one time Marguerite would emerge for the last time. He had grown used to the nurse coming and going, grown complacent at the sight of her. But this time he read something new in her face.
“She’s gone,” said the old nurse. She waited near the doorway, as was her custom. Each family handled the moment differently. She would stand aside and offer support as best she could. She could do no more.
Marshal looked back to Kylie. It should have been Marguerite’s words replaying in his head again and again but it wasn’t.
Kylie uttered her mantra once more before busying herself again at stacking blocks. “Mama bye bye— bye bye Mama.”
Marshal struggled to his feet and took an anxious step toward his wife’s room. He froze as a sense of warmth and comfort fell over him. He felt all of the love he ever held for his wife and all of her love for him all in that moment. Without knowing why, he reached out. He reached for Amelia wanting to feel her in his arms the way he had so many times before. For an instant Marshal felt her warmth against him, felt her body pressing against his. He closed his eyes expecting the touch of her kiss, but it never came. It would never come again.
Amelia was gone.