I’m sorry for your loss.
Her mother had been sleeping in her bed, sleeping into the late morning when her daughter knew in that place, deep inside, the umbilical antenae that never disconnects, that something was wrong.
I arrived with an aggressive team of medics, all of us excited to give this woman our best shot. The daughter was standing at the bedroom door, watching us work while I peppered her with questions, things she didn’t want to discuss. I helped my partner drill a line into the woman’s shin bone after we moved her out of bed and onto the floor so that CPR compressions were more effective. I dripped IV saline onto the carpet, readying the line for use. I popped the epinephrine. I opened the bag valve mask.
The woman’s sobs were far away as I walked the tightrope between my job and my humanity. Her wrecked frame hunching in the doorway, calling for her mother who could no longer hear her.
We worked tirelessly through every single step. We wanted to be the heroes, we wanted this woman to live. It was our job and yet, she had left her body before we had even gotten there.
I conitnued one more round of CPR, pumping her heart for her while her phone buzzed on the nightstand; a text she would never read. I pumped her heart one last time, one last fill of life blood through her tired and abandoned cardiac muscle, and then my partner said, “Time of death, 1312.”
I looked up from her mother’s deflated chest. “I am sorry for your loss.” The words felt like utter bullshit, as the final blow towards the point of no return, the end of an era for this freshly orphaned woman.
The wail, the vomiting while I held her up, the family, the screams, the vigil held by the body, and who the fuck am I but an intrusion. It is my job to be the person I hopes comes to my aid on my worst day.
On my third day on the ambulance over two years ago, back when I thought we saved lives more than simply witnessed them, a man was run over in the back alleyway behind a Walgreens by a bright, shiny, red Coca Cola truck. He had been drunk and slumped over into the street where the 18 wheeler neatly ran over only his head so that he looked like a cartoon. But brains don’t sizzle on the summer concrete in cartoons and this man didn’t pop up and reshape like Bugs Bunny. His brain matter was sprayed 15 ft across the lot. His face flattened into a large oval where I could make out an eyelid smashed closed. He had a beard speckled with grey and white. His name was Roger. His best friend still drinks in that alley every day, sometimes laying down where Roger perished, sobbing. I check on him while passing through on the ambulance. He is not ever ok.
That night, my beautiful, perfectly giggly and light hearted son had a surprise for me in my room. His dark brown eyes sparkled as I took off my soiled work boots in the garage and came inside, wanting to shake off the day. Laying on my carpet was a life sized outline of my boy, my baby, on butcher paper. He had a friend outline his body with sharpie pen, making a large oval around his head.
I started to say “Awesome job” but all I could do was smile, ruffle his hair quickly while I sprinted to the bathroom to throw up.
I have had the honor and tragedy of being present at that precise moment when many people have passed on to whatever onward existance there is. There is nothing ceremonious about it, just a body, a deep absence in an empty room. Some nights I pop a xanax, smoke a joint, or throw back a glass of wine when I feel the fear creeping in. I always knew I was going to die, but now I have felt it. This is the unspeakable, the thing that makes me tap tap tap on my heart when passing gravesites, honoring the dead in the way my disease begs.
I try to ward it away with ritual, but I saw Roger’s shoelaces that he had neatly tied himself the morning he did not know would be his last. I looked down at my shoelaces. I caught a chill in the summer heat.