Four days. In four days, I must conjure words of thought-provoked meaning. A sweet conversation that explained just how important his existence meant to me. My younger brother, my partner in crime, had days, hours to live, and for once in my life, phrases escaped me.
He calmly watched me, his eyes searching my face as he read my expression, and he understood.
“Don’t worry, Sissy,” he gently encouraged, trying to reassure me while using the pet name he used when trying to soften a difficult situation. “I will be okay.”
Jerking away from the hospital bed, I grimly stared out the window and gazed at the foothills and the Sangre De Cristo Mountain range that loomed beyond the small bluffs. White clouds hovered over the southern mountains. Wiping away the tears that formed and quietly slid down my cheeks, the mountain range’s name cut through me—Blood of Christ. Closing my eyes, I still longed for a miracle. “Please,” I inwardly begged as I implored the skies above His namesake.
Whirling around, I retorted, “I know you will be fine. But I will never be okay. I can not even fathom how bleak this world will be without you!” Selfishly, I wanted to hang on to my little anchor that always calmed my seas.
He gave a crooked smile and softly laughed and reminded me, “I was always your favorite.” Laughing, I hurried to his side and laughed, “always.”
The rest of the family left earlier in the evening. The visit had tired Dylan as he worked his magic to ease their burden at his soon-to-be departure.
When his nurse, Courtney, entered the room, she hovered over my brother. She straightened his covers and fussed. Dylan smiled at her attention. His eyes crinkled in the corners, and his handsome face glowed. At that moment, he looked so healthy and young. Life filled the room, and I smiled at my brother, wishing time would stand still once more. The nurse’s movements broke the spell, and I remembered that death lurked; time hastened. I sighed, and although I hated to leave, I walked across the room to grab my bag.
“Wait,” he called. “Stay with me until I fall asleep.”
I slid the recliner closer to his bed, eager to give him what he wanted, just like when we were kids. The nurse smiled and brought me a blanket from the closet. She started to turn off the lights as she left, but Dylan stopped her.
“Please leave on the lamp. I want to look at my sister.”
Once again, the tears began to flow, but I smiled up at him.
“Remember the island?” He questioned.
I nodded my answer.
“Remember my seagull?”
“How could I forget?” I replied. “Without a word, you suddenly jumped from the sea wall, fully clothed, and swam to a jumble of fishing line floating in the bay. It took me a minute to realize you were on a rescue mission.”
“He sure put up a fight, didn’t he?” Dylan laughed.
“Yeah, you had battle scars to prove it, and I got grounded, too, for your little stunt.”
Dylan laughed, “but it was worth it. We saved him.”
“Correction. You saved him.” I grinned. “I was just an innocent bystander.”
Dylan rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Innocent that time, maybe.”
We laughed, and Dylan yawned. In no time, his eyes closed, and he rhythmically breathed. Fear returned; I watched his chest rise and fall like the gentle crest of ocean waves on a sun-splashed day. He had reminded me of our childhood days spent together along the Alameda Shoreline as we played in the sand or ran into the chilly waters of the San Francisco Bay. As memories flooded, the sweetness wrapped around me and warmed me. In time, my peaceful sleep took hold. Soon, I rested in the comfort of my childhood dreams when siblings laughed and played and enjoyed the adventures of each new day. Death never dared to skulk among us.
The following day, Dylan pleaded to go home. He wanted to spend his final days in familiar surroundings and with Marnie, his treasured German Shepard mix. The hospital staff did not believe it would be possible. Staff members were not sure he would linger long enough with the upcoming holiday. Setting up with Hospice might take longer since the 4th of July was just days away. Still, his hospital staff rallied, and his Hospice team diligently worked to fulfill his last request.
When we arrived at his apartment, Marnie jumped and barked, happy to see her person. A volunteer wheeled him into his bedroom. A hospital bed had replaced his old one, and his nightstand held his medical supplies and medications. Once he settled into the bed, he sighed, visibly relieved to be home. He looked at me and grinned; he remarked that he needed a bell to ring when my services would be required.
“Do be a dear and fetch a bell for me sometime today,” he demanded in a terrible attempt at an English accent.
I raised my eyebrows at my sinister little brother, and he gifted me with his raucous laughter. When amused, his laugh always exploded in loud guffaws and often made those around him jump in surprise.
Jenny, his Hospice volunteer, jumped and swore like a salty sailor. Her response delighted my little brother, and we laughed at Dylan’s wickedness. Before Jenny left for the day, she gave me last-minute instructions on caring for my brother. That afternoon, my brother and I shared childhood tales as Marnie lounged on the bed with her favorite human. The day was perfect. Almost.
Although his final days grew in number, Dylan’s decline rampantly progressed.
“We need to talk,” Jenny gently stated as she touched my arm.
I glanced down at the tiny woman that showered us with her gentle spirit. Her no-nonsense attitude provided comfort; as always, her strength and determination fortified her little frame. She had just left Dylan’s bedroom and sauntered into the living room, where I stood peering out the window into the parking lot below. The buzzing from the air conditioner muted our conversation, but she motioned for me to move to the kitchen. She did not want Dylan to overhear us.
“It’s time to let him go. He is hanging on for you, ya know. He worries about your well-being after he is gone. He should not be here, but he wants to know you will be okay. So you have to let him know you will be okay.”
I dropped my head in shame; I still had not talked to him about leaving. Four days had turned into nine. Wasn’t that my miracle? Wasn’t this my gift to have more time? She saw my hesitation, and this gentle soul uttered, “He’s ready.”
I knew this. I had known since we first received the news. Cancer. Such an ugly word. When he could speak, Dylan’s faith reminded me of his courage and strength in knowing that he felt safe in his final destination, even if I were not ready for him to leave.
I responded, “I will talk to him.”
She smiled and patted my hand before leaving.
I walked into Dylan’s bedroom and sat beside his bed in the hard kitchen chair. Marnie rested at his feet. My brother had lost weight, and his face was drawn and grey. Guilt attacked and hit me as I watched his labored breathing. I knew Jenny had given him another dose of morphine for the pain. Our conversations, which I had longed for since hearing of his diagnosis, had ended the day before. My exhausted brother slept in a drug-induced coma, and I knew I had to let him go.
I took Marnie to the park across the street early the following day. Sitting on a bench under an elm tree, I watched the sunlight dance and sparkle on the leaves and branches, and I watched Marnie play in the grass.
“Soon, you will move in with your Auntie,” I whispered to the fun-loving pooch.
Sadness flared as I wondered about Marnie’s life without her beloved caregiver. Dylan’s faithful companion loved him. After saying a quick prayer, I called her and hurried back to sit beside my brother.
He still slept when I returned, and I picked up an old newspaper and settled into the kitchen chair. The small town paper reported the daily happenings, but I couldn’t concentrate on the stories. My world had stopped days ago as I stood vigil by my brother. I stretched and walked to the window, gazing at the parking lot below. I wished I could see the park and the dancing sunlight on the tree that offered a glimpse of hope. As I turned, I noticed Dylan eyeing me. He tried to smile but grimaced instead. It was time to talk.
After our final conversation, I gave my little brother one more dose of morphine. I straightened his blankets and decided to grab a cold drink of water. Crying at the kitchen sink, Marnie caught my attention. Dylan’s dog barked as she ran back and forth from the bedroom to the kitchen. At that moment, I knew Dylan was gone. Slowly, I walked into his room and slumped into the bedside chair. Marnie rested across him and softly whined.
Dylan’s labored breathing had ended. I raised my hand, stroked his cheek, and looked into his open eyes. They were the same, soft and gentle and light brown. I couldn’t close them, for I knew I would never look into his eyes again.
Weariness washed over me. Four days had lingered to ten, yet at that moment, it felt like a lifetime had passed. Then, in an instant, I broke, and grief burst like a winter squall beating violently against rocky shores. I howled like a storm-driven wind and slowly drowned in heartache. How I wished at that moment that I could sail with him on one final journey. I longed for one more childhood excursion, just two kids racing into another day full of hope, one more lingering adventure along a sandy shore.
Photograph – Jamie Street – Unsplash
2 thoughts on “Swashes”
Wow Ann Marie!
You are back and what a story to reenter with. Powerful, painfully vivid for anyone who did the morphine slow-dance with a beloved relative.
For me, you took me back to both parents who we lost to cancer.
Oh, to have just a few more days, even still, to love, honor and thank them.
Tell me if you are willing if it was fiction because you left some clues that it might not be.
Regardless, thanks for creating and sharing this my friend.
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It was loosely based on the passing of my brother who dies from stomach cancer. Thank you for stopping by. On another note, I am hoping to get my groove back now that I am getting to a healthier place myself. I have missed writing.