The old man who died beside me in hospital the other week. I don’t want to say his name here because it doesn’t feel fair (and also because I don’t mention any actual names on this blog). His loss is not mine to grieve and yet it destroyed me. His life was never part of mine and yet its end has influenced me greatly.
In light of his demise, everything seems pointless, bitterly unfair (for the few seconds I was able to maintain that emotion). I can still see those people, those poor, poor people. I can still see him slumped in is bed in a hospital gown in the days before, a mask strapped to his face forcing pressurised air into lungs so full of infection they could barely function. I see him shaking with his parkinson’s, staff calling his name as they rush towards him while he rips out lines and tubes and wires. I remember the stories his wife told as she stood beside him, the love between them, the way he stopped fighting everyone and just looked at her. I can see the way he tried to talk when she arrived, but his mouth just hung open. His vulnerability. His helplessness. His pain. The state he was reduced to. His desperate futility.
This does not feel like my story to tell. His name does not feel like mine to tell. But I see him. I see him, when I think back there. I hear his last breaths all over again. And I remember the awful rattle a few minutes later as the last dregs of air leaked from his corrupted lungs. I can still see those doctors stood there deciding to let him die, and I still remember them all quietly gathering around his bedside an hour after he died, when his family were off comforting each other, and making it all official (maybe, I like to also think, saying goodbye).
I haven’t been able to think about him, because I haven’t been able to think. But I sat down and forced myself to think to see what would happen, and (tentatively) my brain went back to there. Just now my thoughts still wouldn’t go all the way, they wouldn’t stay long enough for me to make sense of them or for them to become fully fledged. I couldn’t maintain them and I couldn’t generate a normal level of emotion to accompany them. But tears came to my eyes. Tears for a man I have no right to cry over, yet who I cannot forget and never, ever want to.
And then my mum came home and got annoyed because the kitchen was a mess. She wanted me to clean it. And I can’t feel full emotion, but there was a wight within my mind so heavy that I could barely move. I was trying so hard not to cry that I felt like I was being choked. It wasn’t the usual smothering, crushing, agonising weight of an immovable sadness. But it stopped me functioning. I tried to tidy her stupid kitchen. She asked what was wrong with me and I told her briefly. But I didn’t tidy the kitchen well enough. She got snappy. She wanted me to do more. So I emptied the dishwasher and I wanted to smash everything I picked up. I wanted to cry. And yet there was this emotional response with barely anything behind it. It made no sense to me, and I wonder how I will respond when I am once again feeling things fully. She asked me what was wrong and got all moody and quiet with me. She thought it was about going back to uni, and had clearly ignored what I’d said to her about listening to a person die. That was dismissed. Not up for discussion.
I couldn’t talk all over again. She was talking to me and I had to force replies. This quiet, monotonous voice eventually spoke one word answers. There’s still not a lot in my brain, but this lack of ability to verbalise wasn’t from a mental void this time. It was because there was this thing smothering me. This… Hologram of feeling that I’m hoping never turns into the solid, real thing. I was breaking all over again, I was shutting down. And now I just keep thinking of him laying there. At some point soon, I will probably envy him for being able to leave the torture chamber of his body.
For now, the only thing I can stand to be around is my dog. Normal life… It feels dead to me. All these wonderfully oblivious, normal people melting down about pathetic, irrelevant things because they have no perspective… And expecting me to sympathise. After the level of suffering I laid there and watched, I am struggling to sympathise with normal people. I am struggling to care at all about normal things. Normal things don’t matter. I don’t care. It’s all pointless. It doesn’t matter. It’s nothing. When you’re laying there dying nobody cares what grade you got or how much you weighed or how many words your essay was or what answer you got for question 2 of the coursework. They care about the person behind all of that, and in the modern society, I’m not sure any of us know who that is.
Who are you? Behind everything you aim for and worry about and push yourself to achieve… Who are you? If you can’t answer that, then unbury yourself, and introduce the person beneath all that to the people you love. Because that’s the part of you that matters. The part of you that you place no importance on at all, the part of you that you ignore and suppress and try to mould to fit what people want, the part you undeservedly hate for reasons you cannot explain… That’s the part of you that matters. That’s who you are. If you never take anything else from this blog, just take this paragraph. Because I don’t think any of us have any idea who we really are, and we leave it far too late to start trying to figure it out.
This was not where this post was meant to go. I know I have no idea who I am. I just know that I’m not alone in that. And I don’t know if I’ll ever figure it out. I don’t know if I’m too broken to figure it out. I don’t know if I want to or not, because I feel hollow and dead. I don’t even know if there’s anything of myself left to find or if I ever will. But I do know that the things we use to decide whether we are good enough, the things that we do that make us feel good… (grades, work reports, dieting…) none of that is us at all, none of it really matters. It’s just another layer to the masks people put on so they can stand what they see. We kid ourselves all our lives. And we make ourselves unhappy. The stuff that matters… It’s stuff like time, relationships, seeing smiles on the faces of the people around us. It’s stuff you can’t print or grade or mark or photocopy or save or submit or like or repost. It’s stuff we undervalue. It’s the stuff behind all of that. The people we do all of that stuff for and with and alongside. I’m sure most of you already know this. I probably wasted words and I’m sorry if that was hideously patronising.
It’s just… I had to listen to a man’s long, slow death to figure that out. Even after a lifetime of hospitals that taught me this lesson over and over again. And I learned it but I always slowly forgot it, and now I’m so broken that I don’t know if I can ever undo the damage. I’m scared I will never feel again. I’m scared I’m going to end it all and run to the arms of the grim reaper.
And if you’ve forgotten the point I just made or maybe never even thought of it… I don’t want it to take an experience like that for you to see it. Don’t end up here. Don’t wait for people to message you first. Don’t prove points. Just love and be loved and forgive and hope to be forgiven and hope you dodge the emotional bullets when they come. Hold the people you love close. Just talk to them. Just be there. And if you don’t know how to human then say hey, I really don’t know how to human so I don’t want to talk right now, but I just want you to know… whatever the hell it is that you never say. Please.
I know this sounds so stupid and I don’t even know why I’m writing it, and I know it’s ironic given the fact that I can’t even reply to my friends’ messages at the moment or speak out loud to my own family (but hey, I think I’m in the middle of a breakdown so please excuse me). I say all of this stuff because I know the damage of never doing it. And I know it’s so slushy and stupid and it’s been a long time since I put out a message like this. And I also know that trying to help other people is my way of avoiding the state that I’m in…