I sat there for what seemed like hours. Watching her every labored breath. With every inhale I could hear the fluid collecting in her lungs. It was all too familiar. This was like my grandfather all over again. The white sterile hallways, the beeping of the machines, the gloomy disposition on everyone’s faces, and worst of the all, how quiet it is. Scared to talk above a whisper or to take a deep breath of the stale air. Hospitals are the worse.
I hadn’t seen her in some time. The older I got, the less I visited her. Caught up in my own life and work I found excuses easier to come by to not go visit her. That didn’t stop her from asking about me or still giving me a red envelope every New Years. So it was again the case this year. My mother went to visit her on Lunar New Year’s as she always does and asked if I wanted to come along. I told her I had work so I couldn’t and didn’t think much more of it. She came back that night and told me I should visit her as soon as possible as my aunt did not look in the best of conditions. Seeing as I hadn’t seen her in awhile I resolved to go visit her the next weekend. But alas, I would be too late. She was admitted to the hospital a few days later.
There I was, navigating the hallways, poking my head into every room till I found the right one. I somehow managed to find the longest way possible to her room. Having to endure a gauntlet of stares from each room as I passed. Some would look at me with hope that I was someone they knew coming to visit them but most were blank and numb.
I finally found here room. I took a deep breath to prepare myself and entered the room. There she was, just like how I remembered her. She didn’t look any different than any of my first memories of her. Only now she had a variety of tubes and gadgets hooked up to her ticking away. This is not how I wanted to see her, I didn’t imagine this at all. She wasn’t gently propped up in the bed with a cup of jello telling me she’d be back on her feet in no time. Instead she was flat on the bed, eyes closed, unresponsive and fighting for every breath. This was too much for me and I could feel the tears begin to well up. I didn’t want everyone to see me cry so I immediately headed to the corner of the room and tried to calm myself down as I stared at the wall.
Breathe. Just breathe, I thought to myself. My mind raced with so many different thoughts and memories. The things I wouldn’t get to say and the things I wouldn’t get to hear her tell me. I tried to push these thoughts out of my head as I sat down on a chair a distance away from her bed. I sat there and I stared. I watched the rise and fall of her chest on every breath. Those thoughts came back into my head and I could feel my face begin to mutate into some ugly expression as the tears erupted out of me. A great sadness swept me up that I couldn’t control. I didn’t want these people to see me in this state. I was supposed to be strong and composed. I was a representation of my mother and I couldn’t let them think she raised some giant pussy. But I couldn’t help it, as much as I tried to hold them them back the tears kept falling. Deep down inside I felt an anguished howl wanting to come forth from my body akin to that of a wounded animal. Seeing the annoyed looks as I quietly sat in the corner and sobbed I decided to hold it in. This feeling, this scream of pain and sadness sat like a stone in my chest.
I understood their feeling of not wanting sadness and tears to be the atmosphere surrounding my aunt in her final moments. I was told to hold my tears and collect myself, which I tired to my best. I could feel I was being rushed to approach her bed and greet her so I could make my way out of there. But I couldn’t, I felt paralyzed. I composed myself at the distance I was at. Any attempt to stand or inch toward the bed felt like I would lose control again. So I just sat there. Didn’t care what anyone said or did. I just sat there and looked at her. Even at this distance I could see her skin was unblemished and beautiful. How was it possible she was in this state.
I don’t know how long I sat there for. I finally felt that I was ready and able to do it. I stood up and approached her side. I put my hand on her arm and opened my mouth. Nothing came out. Every time I tried to form a word or sound I could feel tears coming, so I would shut my mouth. Why couldn’t I stop these fucking tears. I mustered the feeblest greeting as I told her I was there to visit her finally. They told me she heard it, but I couldn’t tell.
When talking of my aunt the image that I always relate her to is that of your stereotypical old Asian lady.
The one labeled age 120. This tiny old lady, hair always tied up in a bun, traditional clothes that she made herself, and her stained black teeth following the aesthetic of the old country. I will always remember her cackle like laugh and smile. How I would raid her cupboards when I visited for junk food and how she would treat me like one her grand kids more than my own grandmother ever did. How she would sit on the stairs and just watch me play as child. How she supported my mother through her tough times. How she was always smiling.
She was there for my first breaths and I was there for some of her last.