I can never figure this out – how does God or whoever it is that makes decisions such as this, decide which person should get sick, which should die immediately and which one should continue living? Is it just the luck of the draw that you’re there right now awaiting the inevitability of your passing while I’m here still dealing with the minutiae of surviving? Why you of all people when you have lived a life dedicated to making this world a better place? I could easily name ten people who should be in your place right now, whose passing will make this world safer and happier, yet there they are, in the peak of health, still strutting in the illusion of their invincibility while you are lying there wasting away, unable to finish all that you wanted to do. Is this what Divine Justice is about or did you, in one of your adventurous treks, make the mistake of displeasing one minor god who then marked you with the insignia of death?
I can just see you now, shaking your head and smiling that magnanimous smile of yours. There you go again, you would tell me, pondering the imponderables instead of just believing and accepting. That has always been your way of tempering my rages, no matter how justified they were, and because you would say it with such conviction, I would calm down. And in my calm I would arrive at a solution. You have always been wiser than me, I have always deferred to your good sense and the clarity of your reasoning. So why are you there, immobile, unspeaking when I am bent out of shape by anger, sadness and disbelief? You always helped me get through situations like this; you promised me you would always stand by me so why are you abandoning me now?
I’m sorry, this is so selfish and inconsiderate of me, this flailing about in all directions. So typical of me, you would say, when I am confronted with something that I can’t understand and I can’t control. Okay, stop shaking your head; I’m simmering down now. Believe and accept. Believe and accept. Believe what? Accept what?
I wonder how you are feeling, whether you are still feeling something. When your system shuts down does it mean all sensations are gone? What about your emotions, do they go away too? C’mon, E, you have always been generous with your knowledge, wake up and tell me how it feels to be dying. Is it true that you can see your entire life pass before you like a video on fast-forward? Or does it happen incrementally, the tips of your toes first then creeping up slowly like when you’re standing in the bathtub and the water starts going up your legs? Is “life” a feeling, a sensation that ebbs, or is it like artificial light that is gone at the flick of a switch?
I remember when I was eight years old and very sick with nephritis, I asked my father how a person would feel if he is dying. The question caught him by surprise and for once my scientist-father did not seem to know the answer although he eventually mumbled something like “an extreme tiredness.” It was only years later that I realized how scared he must have been with that question since at that time my ailment was so severe that it was touch and go for a while. Throughout the three months that I was confined to that hospital bed, I was watching out for “extreme tiredness” but of course I never found out how that would feel. Is that what’s happening to you now? Did you will your body to shut down so you no longer have to deal with your pain?
Remember how we used to talk about the best way to die? You always opted for a quick way like a plane crash or a stray bullet to your brain. No time for pain or regret, you insisted. I have always opted for the chance to document the entire process; you know, a slow glamorous going, like that woman in Love Story, where you don’t have to wither. I would write a daily diary and I would be able to tell everyone who mattered in my life how important they were to me. How naïve I was, how little I knew about terminal ailments! And how arrogant of us to think that we could have our way in life and in death.
I am listening to the clock ticking each second to oblivion. Time has assumed a different dimension now as we wait. I close my eyes tight so I can listen to the sounds of living – there’s a bird chirping and a slight breeze is making the leaves rustle. Elsewhere I hear a neighbor’s radio turned up while a car revs up its engine. Around me the computer hums its constant rhythm and my clicking of the keys seems almost musical. I’ve never noticed these things before, these evidences that life goes on. I wonder if in your last days of consciousness you were able to soak in the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the taste of mortality. And I wonder how it felt to let go.
I guess the time has come for me to let go of you too. This is not how it's supposed to be. We were going to grow old together so we could find out which lover we would remember when the rest of our memory has turned to mush. And now you leave me without answering that question, how fair is that?
I love you, dearest friend. We've had one great ride but you still owe me an answer. And because of that you will always, always be alive in me.
Originally published with the title, “To A Dying Friend”