Months To Years Spring 2018 Months To Years Spring 2018 - Page 18

Zoh !” Mary and I were simultaneously amused and horrified , but we had both seen plenty of chatty , naked old men on the unit , so it didn ’ t really bother us , and we continued to hold the mirror as he shed his gown .
His excitement was remarkable . We had no idea what seeing himself in the mirror meant to him . Maybe he was just loopy from the cancer that had spread through his body and the opiates he was given to control his pain . Or maybe he just wanted to see himself one last time before he died . Regardless , I was glad to be there to help oblige his request . That was the reward of being a volunteer .
I opened the windows and curtains to Bella ’ s room to let fresh air in and closed the door to block the irritating din of Oprah on the television in the next room . I sat next to the head of the bed and held her hand . How strange it felt to be with someone at such an intimate moment in their lives with never having exchanged a single word with them . I knew absolutely nothing about Bella and wondered about her life . Had she lived happily ? Did she have a husband and children ? Did she enjoy a good joke ? How difficult had her battle with cancer been ? How would she feel knowing that some young white guy was the last person in her life ?
While being on the hospice inpatient unit was all about being with people who were dying , only once was I with someone while they passed away . I had just started my shift on a hot , sticky summer day , when Rita said to me , “ The woman in room one , Bella , will probably die very soon , and her family left this morning and is not returning our calls . I want you to sit with her . Hold her hand . Wipe her forehead . Make sure she ’ s comfortable .” When Rita made these requests , there was no doubting they were the right thing to do . And as intimidating as these situations could be , I had learned by then that it usually made sense not to ask any questions .
An African-American in her late 50s , Bella had breast cancer that had spread extensively . She was unresponsive and barely breathing . Though pale , her skin had a rather healthy sheen ; it was moist and unblemished . As someone who had inflamed skin from rather nasty eczema , I was always amazed at how clear the skin of hospice patients could be , especially the skin of patients of color . They could actually look quite healthy .
After about an hour , Bella ’ s breathing slowed down and became more and more irregular . As still as she had been , she became even more still . A few minutes later , her breathing stopped and she quietly slipped away , just like that .
The experience filled me with an overpowering sense of peace . I practiced meditation on occasion later in my life , but never felt the clarity and calm I felt the moments after she passed .
Five women from Bella ’ s family arrived about an hour later at the end of my shift , bawling hysterically as Rita tried to console them . I wanted to tell them that I was with Bella when she died , that she was comfortable and at peace . I wanted them to know that Bella would be ok . But I knew there was a good chance that wouldn ’ t have gone over well . Instead , I just slipped out the back door into the warm night , overwhelmed by the loud , rhythmic thrum of late summer ’ s crickets .
Ben Shaberman is the author of two books - “ Jerry ’ s Vegan Women ” ( fiction , 2015 ) and “ The Vegan Monologues ” ( humorous essays , 2009 ). Both were published by Apprentice House , Loyola University Maryland . His essays , articles , and commentaries have been printed in The Washington Post , Chicago Tribune , Baltimore Sun , VegNews , Vegetarian Times , and aired on NPR . His fiction and creative non-fiction have been published in : Sport Literate , Opium Magazine , Empty Mirror , The Good Men Project , Clean Sheets Erotica Magazine , and Crunchable . He has an M . A . in writing ( poetry ) from Johns Hopkins University and works as a science writer with the Foundation Fighting Blindness .
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