A couple share their final moments together.
By Ingrid Brett
The machines beeped despondently at her bedside, the only reminder that she was still alive. Her skin was pale enough, her lips cold enough, her patchy clumps of remaining hair dramatically-spilled-over-her-pillows enough… but the monitor measured a steady heartbeat, and somewhere in the midst of everything, she was still her. Cameron slipped his hand into his wife’s and squeezed until her fingers curled involuntarily around his own. This was it: since the beginning, they had been a ‘couple’, a plural, a ‘them’, and now her hand was limp and unresponsive and her skin matched the stark white walls of the hospital and she was in pain. That’s what they’d told him. In pain, and they could keep her alive if he asked. In pain, and she wasn’t getting better but if he insisted – if he begged – then she could stay that way. Amber’s eyelids fluttered, annoyed by her dreams and the fact she could not wake from them.
She didn’t have much longer. A week, at most. Her organs were failing. These were their last days together.
He wished he could ask. That she could tell him, or give him a sign, or communicate. Could he keep her? For those days longer, for that much more pain, because he wanted to? There were families out there right this second, grieving because this machine was busy being used by a woman who would never wake up. There were people who might have lived if he hadn’t been selfish, if she hadn’t chosen to love him.
“Amber,” Cameron said, and his voice broke. The monitor leaped, just at the sound of his voice, just because he was there. He licked his lips and dragged in a breath, drawing confidence from the very air, and he hunched over that hand of hers like a lifeline – this was her decision. More than anything else, it was hers. And he was going to make it for her. “Amber, I’m sorry.” His voice shook. He’d have kept her, if he could. If this was his decision, if he were anything close to as selfish as he wanted to be, he would have kept her right there in that bed so he could come back to her and hold her hand and pretend she was holding it back. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to.”
This was the last conversation they would ever have. The last time he would speak to her. And she didn’t respond, she only lay there, deathly pale and wrong and not the woman who had spent every day laughing and every date dragging him to the dance floor. It had been so long since she had seen the sun that her eyes were hollow and sunken, her skin was stretched too tight over her bones. She was already a ghost. Waiting to die.
“I love you,” Cameron whispered. It was a protest. He loved her, and that should have been enough to make her stay – he loved her and that should have been enough to mean he didn’t have to prove it, to mean he didn’t have to do this. He loved her, and this shouldn’t have happened. Drunk drivers didn’t hit people he loved. They’d spent his entire life not hitting them. He kissed her knuckles, her bones, her skin, pressed his lips up against it while the pulse was still there. “I love you.”
For the first time ever, the first time ever, she didn’t say it back. He kissed her again, anyway, and her eyes were just as wet as his.
“You must be so scared.”
He wished she would wake up. That he could say goodbye, properly, even for just a few minutes, even if he was still the one to make the decision and she didn’t say anything about it he wished he could hear her voice and tell that stupid joke she loved and memorise every inch of her when she laughed so that he could remember her as something other than this. The hospital was not Amber. The girl in this bed, stretched out and asleep, wasn’t her. She was just lost somewhere inside his memories.
“Don’t hold on for me.” Not like this. Not that much longer, not in pain. If she wanted to… to rest, then she could. He wouldn’t stop her.
She seemed to take this as permission.
Flooded with painkillers, it did not take Amber long to drift away. He watched her chest slow, listened as the beat of her heart skipped once – twice – and gave out. Amber died with her husband clutching her hand, only because he’d loved her so much he’d finally let her go.
“I love you,” Cameron said.
The machine flat-lined.
She was gone.