It’s hard to watch someone you love dying when you can’t even go near to comfort them.
I watched her struggle to take air in, disease crippling her lungs, her systems failing with old age. “Grandma…” my mumbled word didn’t make a dent in the uncertain silence that persists at every deathbed.
Her eyes opened, her breath rasping out as she tried to speak to my tearful mother.
Something about the action was achingly familiar, even though no one I knew had been in hospital before, had never struggled the way she was struggling right now. But as I watched, and listened, the memories came together in my head, a puzzle of whispers completing itself.
The forest of voices the first time I went camping, not yet old enough to be annoyed at the inconveniences of outdoor life, but young enough that I thought the lake had scary monsters in it.
The haunting melody of the ocean, every holiday we went to the beach. Though the coastline, location, the beaches themselves, changed, the music did not, pulling at me, as relentless as the tide.
The dulcet tones of the mangroves, the one occasion my friends decided to go on a boating trip through the swampy areas. They ended up being swarmed by mosquitos, and labelling it the ‘worst trip ever’. I was, apparently, the only one being spoken to, in a tone that made the hairs on my arms rise and my heart thud loudly.
The lilting chorus of the wind as it blew through the crags and nooks that made up a rocky mountainside to breeze freely at the top. Even on top of the world, drenched in sweat and feeling the triumph of having scaled a mountainside, I couldn’t hear a note of joy in the lamentation of many voices.
The shifting sand in the dessert, steaming in the baking sun. Near silent, almost ghostly in its grace, but accompanied by a near soundless rattle that carried far in the shimmering air. A place I’d only visited once, but stayed in my mind since for its deathly quiet, it’s eerie stillness.
The thunderous crash of the waterfalls in the hill country, commanding, imposing, majestic. And yet there was something in them that I never understood. Not as a child, when I visited on school trips. Not as a teenager, when I snuck off on romantic getaways, and not even last year, when I just went by myself to unravel its secrets.
But as I listened to grandma trying to make herself audible to my mother not allowed near her, I understood why it was so strange and so similar all at once. I’d been hearing it all my life.
If you really listen, you never really stop hearing the cries of the dying.