I’ve always read in awe the stories of dying persons’ last words. I thought Steve Jobs’ were pretty bad ass. “Wow, wow wow.” I guess I’m hoping it was because he saw where he was going and he was very impressed and happy to be going there. Ethel Barrymore’s last words have stuck with me for years. “Is everybody happy? I want everybody to be happy. I know I'm happy”. Once again, I hope it was because there was something there that she could see which summoned these words from her dying lips. But then there’s Tallula Bankhead, “Codeine….Bourbon”. Hmmmmm, that’s closer to what my dying words will probably be.
When talking about the people close to me I would love to be able to say that it was something like “you have always been the best daughter” or “what a great friend you have been… I will miss you always”. A month or so before my father passed he did look at me and very softly say “my baby” and that was wonderful, but I didn’t know it would be his last words. I would like to think, or hope, that he was thinking of me when he passed, but Alzhiemers took his memory and ability to communicate.
My mother had been sick with Ovarian Cancer for 5 years. She was given 6 months when she was diagnosed so we were very lucky to have her that long. Most of those years were good. Not much pain, just a few hospital stays. But the last month wasn’t good at all. She really wanted to stay at home so between hospice, my father and myself we were able to let that happen. Oh, and morphine, thank god for morphine.
I was getting ready for work and I knew she wasn’t doing very well so I stopped by early. It also seemed that she was a little more aware in the mornings. I walked into her bedroom and gently took her hand. She opened her eyes so I bent down to give her a hug and she said “God damn it Barbara, you smell like shit.” I guess she didn’t like my perfume. At all. I could tell she was close to the end, her breathing was labored and I just knew she wouldn’t last much longer. I called work and told them I wouldn’t be in and went home and quickly took a shower and washed off any remnants of perfume. I drove back quickly and sat by her bedside hoping she would come back to consciousness for just a minute. I really just wanted to hear her voice again. Maybe she would say something else. I held her hand and sat with her for the next two hours until she silently drew her last breath.
January of 1998 was the first time I lost a good friend. My family and I had been visiting the in-laws and out of town for a couple of weeks. Of course this was before everyone had a cell phone and a laptop. I walked into the house and pressed play on my answering machine to hear my friend’s father saying that Mark was in the hospital and asking for me. He had been HIV positive for years and with work and kids I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks so I was very surprised. I called his sister to find out what was up. His liver had failed and there was not much time left. It was late so we made plans to go to the hospital the next day. After a sleepless night we made our way across town and wound our way through the garishly decorated hospital walls to his room. I remember thinking just how much Mark would have hated that shit. It wasn’t very tasteful. His dad came out and talked to us about how much longer he might have and what I should expect visually. He said that he had been asking to see me for a couple of days so I figured we would talk, maybe hug, say how much we loved each other. You know, like the things that happen in the movies.
He looked at me with his yellow eyes and yellow skin and said “Oh Barbara, you can’t see me like this, go away” and waved me away with his yellow hand. He closed his eyes and went to sleep. He died two days later. This was not the conversation I envisioned.
Neither of those conversations were the ones I envisioned.
Maybe it’s because I’m from the South. There is death and then there is the death that makes a good story. Undying love maybe, or a heartfelt goodbye possibly, I would have been okay with either of those. As it is I’ll just have to be prepared to tell people that my mom said I smelled like shit and one of my oldest friends wanted me get the hell out of his room.