It was 9:30 AM when a co-worker came to my classroom door. “Ms. Colon, you have an important phone call. I’ll watch your class.” She walked over to the desk and whispered, “Take all of your stuff with you.” That’s when everything went numb. I could feel all of the blood leave my extremities and rush to my chest. My breath struck my heart like a kick drum, fast and furious. I looked around at my students to see if they could hear the beat that flooded my ears. I couldn’t feel my feet on the floor. Was I floating? Was this a dream? It wasn’t. I had to get to the hospital. He was alone and this could be it.
I don’t remember the car ride to Holy Name Hospital. Auto pilot set in. This state became more natural as the cancer progressed. It was the only way I could cope with watching this strong, 6’4” man wither away to a ghostly version of himself. A man takes care of his children but it takes a special man to take care of someone else’s. Bob saved us from a life of poverty. He protected us from an abusive father. My biological father may not have been the brightest of men but he knew better than to mess with a police sergeant.
I floated into the hospital and then into the elevator. I pressed the button and realized that I couldn’t feel it under my finger. Maybe it was a dream? I wanted it to be a dream. Please let it be a dream. And then the steel doors opened.
The hallway smelled of sickness and death. I tried to hold my breath but the sound of his screams made me gasp. “OH GOD! HELP ME! I’M DYING! SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME!” A rush of blood and adrenaline ran from my core to my hands and feet. I finally felt the ground under me and in an instant I was running towards his room. I got to his door when the floor began to quiver. It’s vibration shook my body. I couldn’t keep my balance. Was it an earthquake? I collapsed to the floor. This is when I realized the ground was actually still and that it was my insides that were shaking.
I kneeled outside of his room, listening to him scream. A nurse came over and sat on the floor beside me. She put her arm around me. “Honey, I know this is hard. I know you’re scared. He’s in there alone and he needs you.” I nodded my head in agreement and with her assistance I slowly stood up. She held my arm and led me, or possibly carried me, into the room. I hugged his head into my chest as he screamed into my heart. I whispered, “I’m here, shhhhhh, I’m here.”
Grant, my stepfather’s best friend, entered the room and walked to the other side of the bed. He took Bob’s hand in his and began reciting lines from The Bible. With each line the screams lessened. Bob pulled his head away from me and looked into his best friend’s eyes. Grant would recite a line and then Bob would repeat. They went back and forth until all was calm. All was calm except for me. The quake had internally destroyed me. I was broken. Shattered. Fearful. Distraught.
The rest of my family trickled in, filling the hallway and waiting room. Everyone took turns visiting his room. I stood guard. I watched the machines. Any beep or click sent me to the nurses station to find out what it meant. My mother finally approached me. “Bob wants you to go home.” I looked at her in shock. “He said you’re making him nervous.” I laughed out loud. My mother continued. “He told me what happened. He said he really put you through it. He just wants you to go home and try to relax.” Relax? How does someone relax after that? I knew he was right but I was afraid to leave and then I looked at my niece. Bianca was only five at the time. I didn’t want her last memories of her pop-pop to be of him weak and attached to an assortment of machines. I also didn’t want her to witness what I had. What if it happened again? She couldn’t handle it and neither could I. So we left.
My best friend just had her first-born child a few days before. I had been so caught up in loosing a life that I forgot how important it was to celebrate one. The car ride from the hospital was so different than the ride to the hospital. I played music from The Lion King. My niece and I fittingly sang Hakuna Matata.
In case you live under a rock and don’t know, Hakuna Matata means no worries. We sang it like our lives depended on it, like Bob’s life depended on it. My niece’s giggle made me smile.
We arrived excited to meet the baby. The hall smelled of newness and life. I took a deep inhale as I heard everyone laughing and chatting about who the new one looked like. “Yay, Aunt Pam is here.” My best friend placed her joy in my arms.
He was perfect. “Hi Matthew. I’m so happy to finally meet you.” My heart expanded with warmth. I sat down on the couch so that Bianca could see and touch him. “Can I hold him?” Bianca asked. My best friend said yes without hesitation. I was stunned, nervous and excited all at the same time. I never expected her to say yes.
We set up my niece in the corner of the couch. Matthew was carefully placed in her arms. “Hi Matthew. I’m Bianca.” She leaned down and kissed his forehead. My eyes filled with tears. What a day.
In less than 12 hours I experienced it all. I was sad and I was happy. I cried and I laughed. I was given care and I was a care giver. I was a coward and I was courageous. I mourned and I celebrated. I witnessed the ending of a life and the beginning of one. I realized that the things we deem as negative in life teach us appreciation for the positive. Opposites are what give life (and death) it’s beautiful balance.
Life and Death by Mysterykids
This week we celebrated Matthew’s 13th birthday and mourned the anniversary of Bob’s death. I have gratitude for life’s highs and lows and all the stuff in between.