When my wife was dying nobody came. She spent weeks in the hospice and every day another fraction of her dissolved into the sterile air. The lack of support contributed to her surrender to the end. She had no one to make an effort for anymore. Occasionally our neighbour would come, but her awkwardness in such a terminal atmosphere was palpable and soon those visits ceased. The hospice was a neutral, anonymous place. The walls, floor and curtains were all varying shades of cream, emphasizing the concrete grey of Helen’s skin. She lay on the bed in the centre of the room, tucked under the covers like a child, sleeping through the pain for most of the day. This was easier for her but it seemed such a waste of our remaining time together. I sat and watched her evaporate.
It was uncomfortably warm. Weak pastel cards and bright flowers arrived with worthless messages from absent friends. But nobody came. I think they were afraid. Afraid of seeing death in their lives. Afraid of the silences they would feel the need to fill and of the uselessness of any words they could think of saying. They were more concerned with their own discomfort than Helen. Only I was there when she eventually left and I was angry at the loss and the waste and the pitiful, ugly cowardice of other people.
I was repulsed by the crowds at her funeral, all dressed in immaculate, brutal black. I looked at them in the church, bowing their heads in farewell to my wife whom they had left long before she had. They were here now because there was a protocol they could follow. They sang the hymns and nodded at the eulogy. Some even had the audacity to weep. There was a code of behaviour at a funeral so they felt safe enough to say goodbye. Refuge in etiquette. Afterwards my rage was assumed to be grief. I could find no eloquence in my fury so kept my mouth shut and my hands tightly against my sides. Helen was not with me to hear their words now. She needed those words when she was in that bed. I needed them.