The next day, of so many days that would later blend into one, we were all still there. The day passed in a state of semi-normalcy as we went about the business of waiting. We took turns bringing back food, water, coffee, and tea. We updated friends. We cancelled work, and conference travel, and checked in with babysitters. We updated our children's teachers about the first substantial loss they were about to endure. We assured my father that he could go home to take a shower, and maybe even a nap. We assured my mother that although we loved her, and we knew she loved us, we would be okay. She could go, you know...if she was ready.
Our young friends were a little more occupied. Their people had come...I remember them as arriving like the family in Patricia Rylant's children's book The Relatives Came, although far less festive. Families would arrive en masse in that place, with picnics and drinks and spiritual advisors; they chatted and caught up and had mini reunions and talked about how they really should get together more often, and not just for these sad occasions. Then everything would become quiet, as if they realized suddenly that they would not all be going home.
When night fought her way back in again, and we went around the corner for pizza, we bought extra to feed our three young friends, just in case. That night their grandmother came out and took them out for dinner. It was difficult loosening the grip on the comforting idea that my life was preordained, but I felt better knowing that they were not alone. Someone would need that pizza after all. There are times, when you are waiting, when you can summon up just enough energy to take care of the living, but there are times when you just can't. There was a great spirit of sharing in the hospice ward, the wing devoted to waiting for After. My nephew came that night, and although he could not bring himself to see my mother, his good-byes already having been said in his own way, it was calming to be wrapped in the comfort of the everyday that he brought with him...homework, play dates, school projects. He was a reminder that Out There, life went on.
My mother, in her stubbornness, hung on. We were all exhausted. It was the diametric opposite of sleepless nights spent in labor and delivery waiting for new life to enter the world. There were sleep deprived moments of dark humor. There was one long, dark act of the play unfolding where we begged her to stay. "Look," we implored, "We know we told you it was okay to go, but we also JUST told Dad it would be okay for him to go home to take a shower. PLEASE wait until he gets back. PLEASE. He will never forgive himself if you go now, and he isn't here. Then you can do whatever you want. Just hang in a little longer." I thought of the oldest brother of our young friends (or maybe it was even an uncle) who had made it in time and said a little prayer for all of them too.
With that day almost over, and the waiting continuing, the nurses brought us sheets and blankets, warm from the dryer. We settled onto two adjacent couches in the waiting room and napped under a sign that decreed "No sleeping in the television room." Clearly, we were not the first people to squat illegally since we had been so well cared for. Just as I drifted off, my sister poked me and motioned to the couches behind us, where the girl and her two brothers had stolen into our world of darkened waiting, like stray cats, seeking whatever small comfort they could find. My sister and I nodded silently at each other, acknowledging that sometimes the most you can do for someone is be there with them, in the moment. Waiting. Together.