Sometimes there’s no time to say goodbye.
Three weeks ago, Mr L (an old guy in a hostel whom I visit through a visiting program) was taking himself off to morning coffee at his local shops of a morning, nearly running down unwary pedestrians with his motorised scooter as he went. Three weeks ago, he was still watching the Australian Football League (AFL) and keeping up with the tennis, and tottering down to the dining hall for a meal with his old friends (old in both senses of the word). Three weeks ago I dropped in to give him a present, and as he always does he said “Give me a peck on the cheek will you dearie!” so I did, with a longer cuddle because it was Christmas.
Today his room is quiet and dark, the only sound the soft hiss of the oxygen with its tube forking up his nose. He’s lost all the weight he ever had, his hands clench and unclench gently on the sheet. His eyes are wide open but they don’t seem to see anything. I say, hello sweetheart, it’s Jane, but there’s no sign he hears me. His son, standing tall and stiff behind me, says he’s fading fast. I won’t see him alive again.
It’s a shock, to come from my beautiful lover to this death bed. I suppress the tears that come to my eyes – though I feel like sobbing – because I don’t have a right to cry in front of this man, the successful businessman, who always introduces himself to me as if he’s never met me before. I wait till I get to the car, and have a short cry. That night I’m laughing at something Ms M has said, but dearest Mr L, I haven’t forgotten you. I’ll always remember you kindly, kindly old man that you are.