A Wonderful Mourning

August 28, 2010
The early morning light seeped in through the window. She lay alone in her bed, reclined a bit for better comfort. As she took a deep breath she inhaled the strong smell of window cleaner and medication. Distracted by the view outside the window she paid no attention to the television that was playing in her room.
Katie Hainsmith had grown very accustomed to all the sounds, smells, sights and routines of the hospital, having been a patient for quite a few months. Everything was so very white, and it gave her a feeling that she could not explain. Nevertheless, she smiled as she gazed out into the awakening world just out of reach.
“It's quite beautiful out today.”
Katie hadn't needed to hear him speak to know he was there; standing in the doorway, closing the door quietly behind him.
She turned her head to face him, still smiling peacefully.
“Every day is beautiful in its own way.” she said, and then added sarcastically while turning her attention to the view outside, “I could call a cold, rainy day beautiful. It's been so long since I've been in any kind of weather.”
Reluctantly, she looked back from the tempting view of a cherry tree in full bloom, the branch of which was scratching against her window, to look at him as he came toward the bed. Through worn-out, blurry vision she could see his distressed face, and could tell he was avoiding looking her in the eye. There were dark circles underneath his tired gray eyes, and his brow was strained with the effort of hiding emotion.
She was a bit puzzled but didn't ask questions. And, she quickly found out, she didn't have to.
“The doctor said I could take you for a walk this morning.” he said, not looking up at her. He was watching his hands as they played with the fabric of her bed-spread.
“Really?” she asked. Katie had been wondering when something like this would come up.
He finally looked up at her and their gazes locked. Immediately, she understood. She was a little surprised and although she did not show it, her spirits fell a few levels.
She remained still on the bed, her head back, too weak to even lift it as he took a chair and put it by the bed. As he sat down slowly, his gaze followed hers to the closed window.
He could see that she was effected by the news, but she didn't make an effort to show it. He was sure she was frightened, and probably sad, but at the same time...
She felt herself almost say it out loud. She had been in a terrible state, one in which she could not do anything for herself. She had always been an independent woman, but for the past few months she had been able to do nothing but lie there and wait. Just wait. For what, she was not sure.
There had been hope, for several months now the doctors had not given up hope. And neither had her friends, who had been loyally by her side. For a while. For the first two months they came daily. Visited her all the time. They had watched movies together, they had laughed and talked together. And she had enjoyed life, ignoring her condition. But as her health worsened she noticed that not as many of her friends were coming. And the ones that did come made their visits less frequent and shorter. She felt their gazes upon her and knew they were filled with sadness and pity. She could see it in their eyes.
But what was the worst was that's all they saw anymore. She had become the pale, weak Katie. They didn't remember the energetic, laughing Katie. All they knew was the Katie that coughed herself to sleep. All they saw were the Ivs in her arms, and the tubes in her nose. Instead of hearing her cheerful, high-spirited jokes all they heard was the few raspy words she could manage to say. They didn't remember the skillful hands that prepared perfect, home-made cookies. They only saw the skinny, limp ones withering away on the bed.
Soon, the drop-ins became very scarce, and hardly anyone came to see her at all. Of course it hurt to know you were in such a state, but for everyone to give up on you was tragic.
After a while, doing nothing but staring at the window day after day, she had almost given up as well. But, her doctors encouraged her to keep hoping, to stay spirited. One friend remained by her side. He came four days a week, and often brought her flowers from outside.
Now, all those feelings of self-pity left her. She was not going to think about this in a melodramatic way. She wasn't going to think about this at all. The doctors had obviously given up hope, but she saw it a bit differently.
For the past eight months she had been confined to her bed, sulking the days away. But now, she was being given a bit of freedom. Her last bit of freedom. They were sure she couldn't hold on much longer, so they were finally granting her one wish. She'd been wanting to go outside for weeks, but having to satisfy that hunger by watching the world go on without her through a small hospital window. So now, when everyone else had given up, she could finally be at peace.
She would stroll through the gardens one last time, and she would enjoy her freedom. Everyone else was thinking of it as the end of endless months of trying, of debating, and of hoping. They thought this was just the end, the conclusion of eight long months of hard work gone to waste. But she looked at it as her release.
All that time, she had been forced to do what others wanted her to do, she had no choice, no free will. They had been fighting for her life, but it was very possible that life would be spent in a hospital room.
But now, after ongoing suffering and worthless hoping, she could be unbound. Finally, she could be set free from all the stress and all the strain of hoping to see another day of lying in a bed. Unable to move. Unable to survive of her own will. Now, everyone could be released from that hopeless wait. They could all let out the stale collective breath that had been held for eight months.
She looked at him, aware of the fact that her palms were sweating, and she said simply, but with a smile.
“Thank you.”
He looked up suddenly, and for a few moments just stared at her. Finally, he smiled and stood up to help her out of bed. It was a stressful process, but they tried their best to get her into a wheelchair. Her body was very weak by now, and she could barely be of any help. But, twenty minutes later, in a light jacket and hospital slippers, she was in the chair and they were on their way down the hall toward the elevator.
As they passed, she glanced into a room and saw a young girl sitting up in a bed, surrounded by people. The girl was smiling happily and talking with her friends. There were bright flowers in the room, and big teddy-bears, but the light wasn't coming from them at all. Neither was it coming from the open windows. All the light in the room seemed to be coming simply from the girl herself. The joy and gladness inside her.
Katie smiled at the scene and looked back in front of her as they passed the room. That girl was probably a new patient, and had also been condemned to bed just like Katie had been. But, she was still happy and cheerful, as if she was still out shopping with her girlfriends, or watching a movie with her family. The older woman smiled weakly again at the youthful naivety and innocence of the child.
How nice it would be to have that energy again. To be able to laugh at the whole world as you ran past it all.
The ringing of the elevator doors gently woke her from her thoughts. The two gray figures entered carefully and waited for the doors to close. The man stepped forward and pressed a button firmly. As they moved to the first floor the elevator was not stopped or interrupted in its course and no one else got on as if the people knew that inside was someone out for her last walk, and respected her wishes as carefully as they would their own.
The ring chimed again as the elevator came to a halt. The doors opened and the chair began to move once more. Nurses and patients alike paused as they passed by to look at the weak lady in her chair. Some smiled warmly, some just looked at her in pity, but she was sure that in another twenty minutes most of them would already forget about her existence.
When they were finally at the front doors she anticipated anxiously the rush of fresh air that would hit her face as soon as the sliding doors parted. And, there it was. As soon as the doors opened the breeze rushed right to her, wrapping her in its welcoming embrace. As she took a breath she was surprised that it hurt her throat to take it in. The brisk outside air was so different from the chemical-smelling fumes she had smelled during her confinement that it felt much sharper in her lungs. Much fresher, but also more painful from what she had gotten so used to.
When the wheelchair moved through the doors into the outside world Katie rocked forward slightly before a strong hand caught her shoulders to pull her back. She was again surprised at her own weakness, but kept all those feelings to herself.
As they proceeded into the garden she looked around excitedly, taking in every detail. The beautiful blooms on the cherry trees were her favorite this time of year. They listened to birds singing, watched butterflies flutter around flowers, and watched the sun as it carefully rose to its full beauty. It came over the hospital slowly, as if afraid to shatter their carefully put together world. There were only a few white, fluffy clouds in the sky on this particular day, and Katie tried to convince her friend that one of them looked exactly like baked potato with butter.
They had known each other for almost twelve years now. Having met in high school, and gone to the same collage they had a lot in common, and always had something to talk about. The many wonderful memories they made together with many other friends were recalled on this early morning.
Close to the beginning of the second round through the garden Katie started coughing often. Reluctant to let the pain go on, he continued walking, fulfilling his promise to her to make this last happy memory for the two of them.
He held her shoulder to keep her sitting up straight in the chair. Her coughing fits lessened and she felt a bit more comfortable again, but she was starting to wear out.
As they passed a cherry tree he paused for a moment. Careful not to disturb her, he reached up and took a small blossom from a low branch. He came around to the front of the wheelchair and sat on his knees to face her. He showed the flower to her, and she smiled warmly at the kind gesture. Then, standing back up, he put the beautiful blossom in her messy, light brown hair.
She smiled to herself as a single tear slid down her cheek. She quickly blinked away the moisture before any more tears could escape her eyes.
The time to go back in drew closer, and they both knew there was no need for words. Words would only spoil this last chance for them to be together.
They strolled back slowly, attentively looking around themselves, careful not to miss any small detail before they went back inside. The sun was now a good distance above the horizon, and was shining down on them softly. Taking in all the smells and the feel of the warm breeze on her cheeks, Katie closed her eyes and smiled. It really had been... a wonderful morning.

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