I was laying next to Ben’s body, gently embracing him, when Maddy rushed in to room 115 of the hospice facility, absolutely shattered to find that her brother had died and that she hadn’t been there. Her face twisted in pain with tears flowing and words choking out “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry I wasn’t here!” I wanted to take her in my arms but I was afraid to let go of what I currently had my arms around, because when that happened, it was going to be permanent.
I know I can’t make her understand now, but watching Ben die was incredibly painful. Those last few gasps. The raspiness of the congestion in his throat from those damn mouth sores. The oozing blood on his pillow. Watching his beautiful brown eyes fix into a stare that I cannot help but compare to a factory reset. His eyes rolled, then stopped right in the middle as the last breath left him. Like he had been reset. He was no longer breathing. No longer moving. No longer living.
And there was not a freaking thing I could do about it.
But I was glad that she was out of the room when Ben left. Matt was there to hold her close as her sobs grew louder. I continued to lay next to my dead son, gently touching his quickly cooling skin and counting the freckles that I had counted a bazillion times before, trying to commit them to memory, because I knew at some point, they would take him away.
I don’t know how long we were with him, but they gave us all the time we wanted. We kissed him, held his hands, smoothed his hair. Knowing this was going to happen. In denial that this just happened. How are we going to carry on now that this has happened?
We finally told the nurses we were as ready as we were ever going to be to leave our Ben. They asked us to step out of the room so they could prepare Ben’s body for the funeral home to come collect him. We waited in the lobby by the nurses station. I knew they were changing him into a Nintendo shirt and some comfortable pants that Matt had picked out, but the only other thing I can remember is that my body was trembling. The adrenaline was making it too difficult to stand still but too challenging to move with any grace. People said things. I don’t remember. My eyes were glued to the door of 115, waiting for the stretcher to come out with my son’s body.
When the door finally opened, it did simply look like he was sleeping, but with each wispy fluff of the newly growing hair smoothed down like a little old man getting ready for a date. I couldn’t step closer to the stretcher. None of us did. We just looked at him from where we were standing. Like he was asleep and we didn’t want to disturb him. They were just taking him off for a little rest. At least, that’s how my coping mechanisms allowed me to process this.
The woman who came from the funeral home to collect Ben had him covered with probably what was standard funeral fare, but it looked out of place on Ben. It was a very heavy formal looking blanket, but it was easier to focus on that out-of-place blanket than it was to make my mind accept that my son’s body was beneath it. It was all so out of place. She started to gently wrap Ben’s face up in the sheet while we were all gazing at him and the hospice nurses all gave a collective head shake of “NO!” She quickly removed the sheet with a slight look of embarrassment that she had done something wrong.
Something touched my heart though, that this must be her first collection of a body, at least with family watching. And that soothed me somehow. This was my first time going through this, too. I’m not quite sure how to do this correctly either.
I think learning how to do this is going to be a life-long process.