Saw Fran today, on what must be her death day. She turned 47 in June.
I had imagined what it would be like. But the reality started with her tiny house white house, walking past the flowers, remembering how Fran loved her garden, thinking Fran's hands planted these, already feeling the loss of hands that would no longer do that labor. On the door a black and red poster had been tacked up, warning about the oxygen in use inside and the danger of open flames. Inside, her tiny living room was filled with people, all eyes on Fran, bald, shrunken, propped up on pillows on the couch, with someone holding each of her hands, and another women kneeling at her feet, stroking one bare foot. The sound of her breathing filled the room,, that rattling gurgle that dominated everything at the same time as it faded into the background. She didn't seem like Fran any more, she didn't even seem human. She frightened me, with her tubes running over her ears and into her nose, the sound of her labored breaths, her attendants. She might have been a god or a dead body being prepared for burial. Then the life visibly coming back into her, and her eyes opened wide for a second, blue in her pale yellow bony head, eyes as large and as beautiful as a doe-eyed model's, and she whispered my name and I wasn't frightened as much any more.
Her sad blue eyes, the jumble of teeth in her mouth as she formed the words "I love you," her mouth her broken mouth, the way she slept the sleep of morphine, her eyes sagged open and rolled back to show half moons of white and Barb sat and stroked her head and said it won't be long now, her breathing is already stoking, and there were long pauses in her breathing and I was afraid she would die with me holding her hand. I didn't want to be the last thing she touched before she left this earth, went on to God or nothingness, I don't know what.
The neighbor who played so many rounds of cards with her sat in the corner and pressed at her Gameboy, probably wondering where all of us had been prior to this death day. She was young, plump, serene in a way that those of us who hadn't seen this before were not.
Fran’s husband was trying to sleep; he had been throwing up; he couldn't keep anything down.
Barb asked if someone could spare a Chapstick. I took mine from my coat pocket and she pushed out a pink half inch and spread it on Fran's lips. I saw her mouth make tiny movements, accommodating this care even as she sank on the waves. Barb wanted gauze to cushion the oxygen tubes, too, but there was none in house, so she ended up cutting apart some pantiliners so the tubes wouldn't irritate Fran's tender skin.
She was an alien, a naked baby bird, a tiny thing that frightened me so much. Something I had never seen before and never want to see again.
Fran died 21 hours later.