Standing in the shadow of death

“Press harder ma’am. That’s it, keep going” The paramedic’s voice is calm yet forceful, his presence is large yet not suffocating.

“Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen…” There is a strange rhythm to the numbers that I seem to exhale with every exertion. I shut my eyes and push down harder. I cannot look at my hands clasped one on top on another. I cannot look at the shrunken chest, a body ravaged by disease. I cannot look at the body of child that seems to have replaced the once formidable body of an adult man who lies lifeless beneath my hands. I cannot will his body into life; no persuasion through force of my body or strength of my will is enough now. Yet still, I try. The cold feeling that presses down on my chest has grown so big that it fills the room. It fills the room so completely that it leaves no space for reality. Death struggles to find a place next me, I ignore it. I ignore the whisper in my ear, the gentle nudging at the edge of reason. He will live, the paramedics will save him. When the paramedic asks me to step aside so that he can take over, the pull of his words are not enough to overcome the sinking force pulling me towards the cold tiles biting into my knees. For a moment I cannot move. There is a tremor beneath my amour and a moment of startling clarity before I rise and start to walk away. I walk away as strangers in my home shut the door, I walk away from the fiction of having some control over the situation. I walk away from death in one room to towards the mess it leaves behind in the shape of a crying woman who must now say goodbye to her husband in another. I walk towards the sound of fear, the sound of loss, the sound of pleading. And it is that pleading- for me to make this better, for me to say it isn’t true-  that plays a warped, broken tune in my mind and wounds far deeper than when the paramedic announces with finality and sadness that there was nothing they could do.

It is a day later and my forearm hurts. My body feels like I’ve been through a physical trauma and every time I close my eyes, I see his face. The glassy eyes, the slack jaw haunt me in a way I want to be rid of, but I do not mind the physical pain. I need it somehow. I need it to remind me of my futility, of my impotence against death. I need it to remind me of my smallness in a vast and confusing world. I need it because the world has not changed to match my grief. The birds have not stopped singing to match the guilt clutching at my throat. The sun still rose in an affront to cold, clawing emptiness in my chest, to words I could not say and to the tears I could not stop.

I was not prepared for his death, but who amongst us is ever prepared for death? I think of the frailty of his body, how his skin hung loosely off his bones, I think of how he always smelt sick, an uncomfortable mixture of medication and something else and I wonder if death had been following him for a while now. I wonder how it was that I did not see it’s shadow in my home. I wonder how I didn’t feel it’s presence in the last happy memory I have of us all together. Perhaps that is death’s trick, to be your constant companion so that the obviousness of it’s very presence evades you. You forget death, and in its place, you create a certainty beyond your control. You forget the frailty of your existence, you forget your mortality. And maybe that is what it means to live, to forget our smallness, our inability to control our ultimate ends and to exist as impotent gods.

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