There is only this feeling of sacredness as you watch another human (with whom you have blood ties) breathe her last. While the academics are still debating over when life begins for the embryo, there is no room for dispute (at all) when someone expels the last breath.
The fleeting seconds when you hear the last drawn and expelled breath, and watch the line on the heartbeat monitor go flat are humbling. Immediate thoughts were drawn to the circumstances when she was brought from the watery surroundings of her mother’s womb to an environment where she had to draw air to her lungs. What was her first cry like? What expressions were worn on the faces of those who were by her mother’s bedside? Or when she was presented to other blood relatives who, perhaps, might be waiting anxiously?
The stories of her life may never be told in their entirety. I’ve only heard bits and pieces of them through the visits to the nursing home where she spent the rest of her days. The accounts were sketchy too, as it became tedious for her to recall and then express due to her incoherence. I would have loved to listen to her accounts of the journey by boat to this island, her childhood that was spent in the fields of her village in the Motherland, how she fell in love with my grandfather, how she felt when she married him as his No.2, how she brought up her kids during the Occupation, and what my mother was like as a child (I only knew how close she was to being sold due to the family’s poverty).
There was relief as she called my name thrice during the last two days of her life. There was this tinge of sadness when I recalled how she asked if I had eaten (as most elderly would do usually) even in her suffering and pain – with tubes on her faces and her hands. And in spite of how she was thirsty and hungry most of the time because she was put on dextrose drips due to her condition. Her hands were tied and covered in a pair of mittens because she tried pulling the tubes from her nose.
At times, I would watch (sometimes helplessly) as she gratefully sucked hard (mustering all of her remaining strength) at the sponge which I used to wet her mouth (since she wasn’t allowed to drink). Then, there were her repeated pleas, asking for help so that she could sit up.
Yet, nothing beats having her hands clasped tightly around mine whenever I would reach out to her. The touch of another human, during moments like these, as a response is precious and priceless.
“She may not survive this hospitalisation episode.”
The words of the doctor rang clear. It didn’t quite register at first because we humans tend to cling on to the faintest of hopes; in this case, the word “may” offered just that.
[He was the urologist and first apologised for not being in proper attire (he was in berms and a polo T-shirt). Wanting to find out more about her condition, I told him it was okay since it was a Sunday and whether or not he was in a white coat with a stethoscope slung across his neck was of no consequence.]
A day later, she slipped back into semi-consciousness and could no longer respond when we spoke (slowly at times) to her. The night before she passed on, she called my name just once in between long bouts of her being unconscious.
So, on that fateful morning, I was the only one by her bedside. Unforeseen circumstances meant that the rest couldn’t make it there or thought there was still time.
As the nurse gently pulled out the tubes and relieved her of being a prisoner to her bed, I said a silent prayer for her. She took with her the stories I would never hear about and a voice I would, through time, slowly forget.
This is where regrets (albeit few) and reminiscence of memories begin.