What Can Happen In A Second.
Five years ago, Lily’s life changed in ways she could never have imagined.
Her son, Jaden, was four years old when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, two months later, he passed away in the arms of her and her husband, Jacob. They didn’t have time to process the diagnosis, never mind his death. Jaden’s absence became more and more heavy on their hearts and his room, untouched two years later, marked the grave they refused to purchase. It marked the death they couldn’t acknowledge yet sat in every room they existed in, dancing in their peripheral vision.
On the third anniversary of Jaden’s death both Lily and Jacob took the day off from work but didn’t tell each other they’d done so. They each spent the day in solitary meditation. Lily had gone to Jaden’s favourite beach and Jacob had walked through Jaden’s favourite playground. Jacob felt the eyes of each parent staring at him, silently telling him to keep his infectious death away from their children. His heart heavy with pain and sorrow, he got back into his car and drove to a pub close to his old apartment and drank in the corner of the bar, where it was dimly lit and no one, but the waitress, could see his tears.
Lily, back from the beach, her face stained with tears and her feet wet from the ocean, turned her cell phone back on. She had 27 missed calls on her phone, all from the Queen’s County Medical Hospital. Her husband had been in a car accident and could she please come quickly.
When Lily arrived at the hospital she was out of breath. She’d been yelling the whole way to the hospital, “Not this day, not this day, not this day…” It had become a mantra, to keep her remaining family intact, to try and cheat Death from taking more of her heart away. After Jaden died she was sure Death had taken the whole thing. That her chest was nothing but an empty cavity.
The doctor took her to her husband’s room and pushed papers into her throbbing chest, asking her to sign it for organ donation. The nurses were saying her name but all she could see was her husband, tubes coming from his mouth, blood all over his swollen face and chest.
Lily could hear nothing but a roaring noise in her ears. She was sure this was Death, coming for her husband. Though she couldn’t see Him, she felt Him in the room with her. It was a dance she knew too well. She heard the doctor’s voice speaking to her, explaining the accident, as he knew it to have been, but she comprehended little. All she knew was that her life had ended, this very same day, three years ago. How she had managed to carry on, how either of them had managed to carry on, she could never fathom.
Now, she could see very little. Her vision was blurry and all she could hear was her own heart beating in her ears, her own blood coursing through her veins, the beep of the machine that was keeping her husband alive and out of nowhere, her name, a question. “Lily?”
The priest, Father Patrick, who had sat with her and Jacob when Jaden lay dying, was here now. She blinked when she looked at him, the tears starting to flow freely now, and said, “Jacob…”
Father Patrick took her in his arms and, as they were going to take her husband away for his organs, her knees buckled and the reality of her grief, of her empty heart and sorrowful soul, knocked the wind from her chest. She couldn’t breathe.
Almost a year later, after speaking with Father Patrick before the anniversaries of the deaths of her husband and her child, she had made a final decision. She’d spoken to Father Patrick about the decision she’d made and asked him if it was selfish. He could only tell her that she had to do what she felt was the right decision.
For years Jacob had been promising to take her to the Grand Canyon. She decided to take the trip herself, carrying both her husband and her child in her heart. As she slowly climbed to the top of the cliff, the wind was roaring in her ears. She could feel Death. Again, they were doing this strange, yet familiar dance.
She spent quite a few minutes sitting at the top, looking over the beauty of the land, taking it in one last time. Her first, and her last sunrise in the Grand Canyon, had been spent camping here. She’d never seen anything so breathtaking. She was sure she’d never see anything so beautiful again.
Finally, at the same time that her husband died, she took a step and leaped off the cliff. The wind, Death, roared beautifully in her ears and she laughed. She laughed until she cried and screamed goodbye. She screamed goodbye to her dead child and husband, she screamed goodbye to the house she’d sold a month before, she screamed goodbye to the life she’d lived.
She closed her eyes for she knew the end was near. She could see it coming and braced herself. In the darkness behind her lids she replayed her favourite memories of when they were still a full family. Full of love, full of laughter, full of life. She smiled softly and the tears, locked behind those closed eyes, made the memories seem like a watercolour painting. “Goodbye,” she whispered.
The snap of the bungee cord forced her eyes open and, as she dangled there, she said goodbye to the ghosts of her husband and her child, the life she’d lived with them, and the life she’d lived in their absence. She apologized to them both for choosing life.