No one ever says the words as I blindly scramble limp legged down the hallway, breathless and trembling, my nerves jangling like loose change. No one says it as they pass me through an obstacle course of smothering hugs, whispering things in my ears I’m too deaf with panic to hear. I have walked into a wall of silence. I don’t understand why I don’t hear the reassuring orchestra of medical machinery beeps.
I hear the weeping first. The unbound, wide open wail of loss. It strikes me that “loss” is too paltry a word. That it does no true justice for the way losing carves you out, leaves hollow spaces where someone once dwelled. That the empty is permanent, in a way we like to pretend isn’t true because we simply cannot endure it.
The bladed sharpness of the weeping tapers off, leaving just the haunting silence. The sour cold of mourning settles over us like dew. I shiver, hollow and devastated. I can barely stand to stay in my skin with this coldness.
I pray to all the gods I’ve ever known. Please, I plead, my knuckles gone white on the fists clenched at my sides. Please.
Every time I think I have no tears left to offer up to Saint Gabriel, fresh tears crest my eyelids and run rivers down my cheeks. The place she’s been ripped from feels exposed and raw, a wound too sudden, too deep to brace for. All of my flesh feels tender and pulpy, and I am too wounded to do anything but gulp in big breaths of air under the grief I am drowning in.
I hold her cheek in my hand, smoothing her hair and memorizing her face, making mental maps of her moles and scars, pretending not to feel her skin growing algid beneath my palm, the color draining from her lips. I try not to focus on the fact that this is the last time I’ll see her this way, in this skin, close enough to touch. I kiss her and she doesn’t smell like herself and I am heartbroken all over again. I feel light headed and wobbly, my legs threatening to abandon me as I set about this dirge. I don’t know how I can be expected to shoulder this.
The minutes crawl by on concave bellies, cold and quiet, stretching into oblivion. I’ve lost track of how many I’ve lost watching for the rise of her chest, only to be devastated anew when it never comes.
When I can’t stand to stare wordlessly at her unmoving face anymore, I start to pace. Up one side of the stark white hallway, down the other side, careful to avert my eyes to the tiled floor when I pass the opening of her room. They keep the dead separate from the living as though death were contagion, like it might slip from her skin and slink- silent, black- down the hall, toppling the loved ones of someone else like dominoes. We are isolated, alone in our despair, silent ghosts haunting the corridors outside the makeshift altar where she lies in state. We cannot tear ourselves from her side, even as we are ground down under the weight of this grief.
Please, I beg whatever God is listening to me scream inside myself. Please. I cannot do this. Please.
No one answers.
After hours of sitting in the cold of her absence, stark still and quiet, I finally say to myself the words no one else would say.
She is gone. I have lost her.
She died on her mother’s birthday. Like her mother, we will cremate her, and take her to the Gulf she grew up on. We’ll let her ashes sieve through our fingers and return her to the God who took her from us.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.