this is what death looks like

I watched a movie last week. It opened in a hospital with a mother on her deathbed.

Her young son standing by her side, holding back tears.

She looked over at him with tired eyes. And said sweet things like I love you, and you’ll be fine, and don’t you worry about me.

Before she drifted gently away.

But death doesn’t look like that.

All glitter and glamor and Hollywood.

And I didn’t know it until last year.

Before anyone dies in the movies, they get to say their final lines.

They get to finish their role.

They get to play their part.

But death doesn’t work like that.

Death comes in when you’re all alone in the hospital on Sunday night.

Because visiting hours are over. And your husband has gone back home.

When you think it’s just a bad cold, but really it’s pneumonia.

When they say you’re in ICU just as a precaution, but a third of hospitalized pneumonia patients don’t make it.

When the doctor comes into your room far later than he should for the day,

And you have to take notes with shaky hands because no one is there to take them for you.

“Respirator”

“Lung failure”

And your two daughters are scattered across the country.

Planning their Christmas visits to see you.

And they have no idea what’s coming.

And neither do you.

That’s how death works.

So you scribble down jagged notes in your tiny book and put it in your purse to tell Tom the next morning when he returns to your side.

But you never get the chance.

You’re the one-third.

And all alone, you slip into a coma.

With no one to tell your final lines to. No one to hear your goodbyes.

In the movies, the hospital patients look like mannequins.

Sickness is painted on with makeup.

Medical equipment is just another prop.

There are flowers on the bedside.

There are flowers.

But that’s not what death looks like.

Death looks like me calling Southwest Airlines in a panic to try to move my Christmas trip five days earlier because my mom might die.

Death looks like packing a black turtleneck dress next to a reindeer sweater because I’m not sure what the next seven days have in store.

Death looks like crying at an airport bar on a Monday afternoon while my flight’s delayed for two hours.

There is no glitter, no glamor in death.

And when I get to the hospital I’m rushed down dingy corridors lit by humming fluorescent overheads. It smells like latex and bleach and sweat (that I realize only later is actually my own).

Family members are on their phones contacting more family members. Everyone looks up when I arrive, but no one smiles. That’s what death looks like.

Like a monstrous version of the woman I call mother.

Blown up with so much fluid. So swollen I’m scared to touch her. Scared she might burst.

Death looks like eyelids held shut by medical tape.

Big puffy blisters all over her turgid face.

Black and blue bruises covering arms and cheeks.

Tubes shoved up her nose.

Yellow fingernails.

Needles coming out of her skin.

And small splotches of blood on the blanket from everywhere she’s been stuck.

In the movies, even the dying have a good hair stylist.

But mom’s soft hair was matted up on top of her head in a sticky, messy sumo-wrestler style bun.

She was foreign to me…unfamiliar.

I had to squint and study to recognize my mother in this ballooned woman lying on that hospital bed.

She looked like death.

Death looks like an oxygen monitor that keeps dropping further and further away from 100.

Death looks like a plastic bag that won’t fill up with urine.

It means she’s too sick. It means her organs are broken.

It means she’s not getting better.

It means she’s not coming back to say goodbye.

Death looks like planning a funeral four days before Christmas.

And opening the presents she got for me on the floor of her living room. Underneath her pink and white tree. Without her there to watch. Or hug. Or thank.

Death looks like two sisters with no mother.

Without a second take.

Without a denouement.

Without glamor.

Without glitter.

Without goodbye.

This is what death looks like.

15 thoughts on “this is what death looks like

  1. Very beautiful, thought-provoking poem. Ny husband was 17 when his father died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. My best friends grandson was 5 years old when he wandered into an open transformer box. Hollywood movies are so often a lie.

    Like

    1. Agreed. And I guess that’s no surprise, but it doesn’t stop you from feeling cheated when you don’t have your beautiful closing scene that neatly ties up all the loose ends. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow this really hit a nerve and has me in tears right now on a train. This is indeed what ‘death looks like’.
    I have been in a similar situation myself, frantically booking the next flight possible from Iceland (which was only once every 3 days to the airport we actually needed to fly to) in order to get back in time to say goodbye properly. That waiting in the airport, the nausea, holding back tears to seem as though we could be strong, and then that last tiny piece of hope that things will be alright.
    What a beautiful and powerful post.

    Like

  3. Oh. This piece is heart aching. I like how you juxtaposed the two, fiction and reality and how we perceive death might be like when it approaches.

    I have witnessed a lot of death, as a nurse, and you are right, it’s not glamorous. And when my mother in law passed, it was also difficult, and gnawing, and painful.

    May God bless you with gradual healing and peace over time.

    Like

    1. I don’t know how you can do it as a nurse, but I hope you know what a critical role it is to help people through some of the toughest moments in their lives. I’ll never forget the nurses who helped me those five long days in the hospital. Thank you for taking on that immense responsibility.

      Like

use your words here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s