I am waiting as I compose this post, notebook perched on one knee as I hold vigil next to Sam’s hospital bed. His daughter watches me surreptitiously. She’s not entirely sure of me, nor I of her. We’ve only met twice prior to her panicked call to me last Sunday, telling me that they’d just arrived at the emergency room and confessed in a whisper that she was scared. She’s still frightened a day later, afraid that if she lets go of her father’s hand, he might slip away in that moment. It’s her ritual during this time of waiting. She will not leave his side unless I take Sam’s hand in her stead. So I play this game of hand holding when she needs to step away to cry in private. I know that need well – I did the same when my own father was in the CICU prior to his death.
Sam is waiting too… his body continues to function thanks to a tangle of wires, tubes, and machinery. His soul is wavering, though, not quite ready to let go this life and yet not sure if it should remained tied to his broken body. I’ve made the first move – I’ve stepped into that place where he lingers and asked if he is ready, if he needs my help. He is uncertain. The pull is strong in both directions and so he remains, not quite fully connected to the physical body, but unable to leave it entirely behind. I tell him that he can decide in his own time, that I will be here if he needs me, and I leave a foot in that place where he lingers and a foot in the reality of the hospital room.
We wait in relative silence for his decision. His daughter ventures to speak only rarely – asking me if I can ‘sense’ anything, if he is dying, if her mother is there with us. Yes, I tell her, her mother is here, watching over them both as she always has. I cannot, will not, tell her of her father’s uncertainty, that even if he chooses to remain, his body may not be strong enough to survive this. I leave it to the doctors to warn her that ‘it is too soon to tell’. They soothe her with their assurances that he is resting comfortably and is not in pain. They cannot see the spirit that stands beside the bed, looking puzzled and concerned at the body that it had occupied. I am glad that they cannot see this; I am glad too that Sam’s daughter is head-blind. Seeing what I see would be of no comfort to her.
For me, this time of waiting requires an unwelcomed emotional detachment. I want to able to sink into my own grief, to cry my own tears of fear, to remember the moments that bind me to Sam. What I want doesn’t matter however. Sentimentality and nostalgia are luxuries that I cannot afford right now. I need this waiting time to plan, chess-like, several moves ahead, what I will need to do if he decides to go. There is time now to prepare myself for the work that will be required.
So I make plans – how to best guide Sam and to help him sever the ties that hold him here, what to do for his daughter in the hours that will follow, what prayers might best be spoken, what deities I might call upon for assistance without conflicting with his strongly held religious beliefs and without compromising my own. I contemplate leaving all of this to his clergy, to withdraw myself from the spiritual side of this situation and willingly take on only the role of concerned bystander. I convince myself in this moment that my beliefs, my gods, my work might not be welcome. I worry that I am intruding on moments that his daughter might feel should be hers alone to share.
As doubts creep over me and I contemplate leaving, I hear the whisper, a faint rustle of sound. Wait, he asks, please wait. I reach for his hand and offer a silent plea to my goddess for the strength to do the most difficult thing – to simply wait…