The Quietest Thing

The room was solemn, tinged by a slight air of impatience. Or maybe that was just coming from within me. I had cried so hard that day that my contacts floated out of my eyes twice, and now… nothing. I was wrung out like the old rag that hung on the sink, my insides twisted and contorted for so long they had dried that way.

I sat underneath the television hung high on the wall, which loomed black and silent now. In fact the whole room was quiet, except for the slight murmur of my brother as he held our mother’s hand, whispering about the beauty of Joshua Tree, taking her there with him as she struggled on out of this world. He hoped he could help ease her passage with his stories.

My sister came in then, disrupting the calm. Piercing it with her urgency. She told us that the nurse was coming in soon to check on mother. Brother never looked up, just nodded and smoothed Mother’s brow then went back to his stories.

The nurse bustled in, another ripple in the calm surface of our collective drowning. My aunt sat still and stiff with grief in the corner, my grandmother next to her. All of us listening to the sad sermon of a woman’s dying breaths, while the nurse checked her vitals.

She quietly looked to us and said that it would be over soon. I felt the swell of guilt as I realized that I was nearly grateful that the ridiculousness of this moment would finally be over, embarrassed because I wasn’t able to stay in the grip of solemnity and sadness that lay like a heavy blanket over the room.

The truth is, going into this, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean really, how could I? I had never been here before. The only other loss I had experienced  was that of my Great Grandmother, which had been marked by a phone call and an argument when my mom told me I couldn’t go the funeral. And now this. I suppose I had expected it to be a grand kumbaya moment where we all came together and surrounded her bed, arms around each other, supporting and soothing. But instead it was disjointed, and each of us had gone to separate spots to quietly grieve or pray. And me? I just wanted it to be over already.

Moments after the nurse left, my sister came back and sat next to my brother, listening to him take Mother through fields of avocados, down the California coast to Monterey Bay, whispering to her of beautiful places and exquisite journeys.

His back stiffened and the room noticed, leaning forward while he leaned back. This was it. She had stopped breathing. We hung in suspended animation, waiting for some clue of what was going to happen next. And then, once more, she breathed. We looked at each, relieved and confused. A slight chuckle formed at the back of my throat when I saw my aunt’s hand clutched at her throat. It was like a movie and I found myself nearly laughing aloud at the melodrama.

We sat back, as we heard another intake of breath. But then, just as we crested the roller coaster again, she stopped. We hung in the air, all of us forming a collective prayer that she would keep going, but the moment of silence stretched on and on. Even my deepest, most fervent hope that it was all a joke, some sort of sick charade, that she would sit up and say, “Gotcha” and we would all laugh, began to slip away. That was it. The quietest thing. The last exhalation of the greatest woman that ever lived.

I raised my hand to the air and left the room.