The wide corridors seem all the more expansive, empty as they now are. I cannot fathom why they made them so wide and so long. I sit on a wooden bench and lean against the wall and stare off into the distance. My thoughts are blind, difficult and abstract but they seem to want to travel.
These corridors must be measured in kilometres.
Do people wander lost here when there is no one to guide them? Are people who come here never seen again?
It is between five and seven in the morning and I am thinking of my father.
He was always an early riser.
This was his time of day for planning and for privacy and, most importantly, for no interruptions.
This being June, the summer dawn has come and gone and warm light passes through the ribbon of windows that go on for as far as the corridor. A whispering breeze stirs the shrubs outside. No one is around. It’s as if the end of the world has come and gone and everyone has disappeared or remained hidden at home. May they remain unseen; I am not ready for trivial disturbances.
I am warm, I feel elated but also shamefully relieved.
I weep openly, but most of all I am relieved.
One hundred yards away, some minutes and the measure of the end of a lifetime ago, my father died in a bed in this hospital.
I am relieved because he did not die in pain and suffer at the end.
I watched him take his last breath.
So faint and shallow I knew he would not take another. The air rasped gently and then stopped.
He left me and I could not follow.
He had been here not quite a week and I knew he would not linger. He never did in life and I knew he would not here, at the end. He would pass away when no one was looking, when all others were asleep and safely somewhere else. He would contrive to die unseen. We all knew this, but it was never discussed; it seems I was alone in thinking I shouldn’t let that happen.
Perhaps I was the only one who accepted the inevitable?
Perhaps I gave up and that is why he left?
I have long suspected that when we die, we die alone. There is a retreat at the end. The only variable seems to be how fast it happens. How brief it feels can never be spoken of, no one can follow and you face whatever you face alone.
I did all I could and, as far as I can perceive, he was not alone. I suspect however that our perception doesn’t carry very far. I did all I could.
Most would say it was not in my character to come up to a hospital in the middle of the night unprompted. I admit I enjoy a good night’s sleep and it is no secret I do not like hospitals. But how can a character be judged in circumstances never experienced? My father had never before lay dying. I have spent a lifetime intermittently doing things I didn’t like. On balance this was not a difficult decision, unusual yes but not difficult. So at half past midnight I picked up a book and said to my wife I would go and sit with him. She did not stop me, I think she knew what I did too, without words. If not now then when? If not now then, never?
Years earlier I had awoken in the middle of the night when my wife was in recovery from an operation. I had known something was wrong and I had gone to this very same hospital and walked into her ward to find her muddled and in pain stabbing the button to call for help. I had asked the nurse how I had managed to travel the ten miles across town where she had not been able to travel the length of the short corridor.
No. don’t tell me, I do not need to know.
Without words I had known. If not now then when?
Apparently, you never know how you are going to react when this situation comes about. The nurses told me, they see it all the time. Some rage at the passing, some fall apart, some come together like you wouldn’t imagine they ever could, and they somehow never do again. Some run away and cannot come back, terrified at the very notion of an end of days for a loved one.
But I knew how I was going to be. I would stay until the end. I owed him that much and more.
What I did not expect was the hours I would spend talking to him alone. I told him everything and for some reason I think – no – that implies uncertainty – I know he heard me. It was nearly five in the morning when I finally fell silent. It was nearly his favourite time of day.
It was only right that I left him then, forever, it would seem.
All the discomfort was gone and he looked, well, like Dad again.
The corridors here are so wide and so long so as to allow the ghosts passage to leave unseen, untroubled and without the jostling of the living to hinder them. They pass by and know full well where they are going. They need no guide as they are not lost.
They are unhindered as we are, they must leave us behind, and easily they outdistance those who will eventually follow.
They will not wait for you. We cannot travel with them anymore.
We are left swimming in their wake, although now becalmed, has ripples that travel as far and wide as time.
And so we fade from them as they fade from us.
Matt is currently working on extending his dissertation into a novel exploring the effects of PTSD and the legacy of the wars fought by the United States in the second half of the 20th century. The piece submitted for DURA represents a contemplative work regarding his Father who passed away last summer. This will never be published elsewhere so Matt felt it was fitting to put the piece forward as marking the end of so many chapters in his life, and also the start of something new.