I had been to see him the day before and sat next to him a while as his chest heaved and rattled. I whispered to him. Stroked his beautiful blonde hair and kissed his warm rosebud lips.
I tasted him and smelled him deeply.
I knew it was goodbye. Even though I had expected this moment for three years, saying goodbye was harder than I ever imagined.
Everyone kept telling me to release him.
‘Tell him it’s okay to go, Sarah,’ they urged.
So, I whispered that in his ear.
‘It’s okay to go, my Llew,’ I said. ‘Time to go. Go off on your next adventure. I will be okay. The kids will be okay. We love you. Go up to the angels.’
I so wanted to mean it. I so wanted to be that big person, calm and accepting. But I could not. I almost choked on the words.
Instead, my heart just wanted to scream out. I wanted to shake him and cry – DON’T GO. Wake up. Please, please don’t go. I just can’t bear it. I can’t bear the thought of not speaking to you first thing in the morning and last thing at night and twenty times in between every day.
I can’t bear the thought of you not being there to calm me, or to hold my hand during a movie. Or rub my feet while we watch TV or sit and play PlayStation with Jude. I can’t bear the thought of not hearing your footsteps running up the path before you burst through the door. I can’t bear the thought of you not standing next to me at the kids’ birthday parties and helping them with their homework in your patient way.
And so I breathed him in one last time. I kissed his lips. I licked the salty sweat on his neck. I rested my finger in the strong dimple on his chin.
And then I walked away.
The next day I screamed. I lay on the floor alone, once the kids were out the house and beat my hands on the floor. I knelt and kicked and screamed. I beat the floor with my fists and shook and sobbed.
No sound came out of my mouth – I was stifled by a hole in my throat, but I was screaming. If I had been at an Irish funeral I would have keened and beat the coffin. I would have wailed like a wild beast. I wanted to smash the house.
That when I saw it. Grief.
Grief is wild. It is uncontained and uncontrolled and uncivilised and I wanted it. I rode it all that day. I think I may have been riding it all along.
But the next night it was time and his family gathered with Llewelyn by his hospital bed.
The entire day he had been in the final throes of leaving his body. The death rattle was louder now in his chest as his lungs fought to breathe.
Kath called that evening.
Liz answered for me. The two sisters, like lions protecting their families.
‘He is close now; his breathing has almost stopped. Do Sarah and the kids want to be here?’
Kath. Solid, reliable, kind and consistent. She was a rock. I had not seen her in the entire month as she had been at her brother’s side the entire way to the end.
I walked closer to the fire.
I still couldn’t talk and so Liz spoke for me. She was there. She was always there to help.
I considered the drive across town, the cold night. I closed my eyes and tapped into my own health.
I didn’t want to be there.
I shook my head.
‘Do you want to see Daddy and say goodbye?’ I whispered to Ruby and Jude. Their eyes were wide. Both shook their heads.
‘I am scared, Mom.’
I nodded. ‘Me too.’
‘They have said enough goodbyes, and this isn’t necessary,’ Liz agreed. ‘They don’t need to see him like that.’
I consulted with the Triumvirate via text.
‘They are right. Let them lead,’ the consensus came back.
Liz conveyed it. She talked quietly into the phone.
‘No, Kath. She is not going to come. She’s not up to it yet. Who is there with you?’
Everyone else was there, it seemed. She was, his mother and father, friends, family. Richard. The hospital was so full of his friends and family, all there to support him on this final passage, that they were spilling all over the corridors and in the canteen.
Friends had flown from out of town, and driven in. Random friends, and close friends. They all wanted to be there with him.
I walked through and into Ruby’s room.
‘Come sit by the fire with me,’ I said. ‘Daddy is going to be leaving soon so let’s sit together.’
She followed me out of the room, rubbing her eyes. She hadn’t been sleeping yet – it was just before 8 pm, and she was just on the edge of sleep. I left Jude to sleep, not entirely sure why.
I texted my sister Jayne, who was living in the cottage on my property, to come up and sit with us. My mom was there already with me, and my dad joined.
We all sat by the fire, and I sank into a low seat. We were all silent. Waiting. Dreading.
Jayne lit a candle.
At 8 pm the phone rang. It was Kath.
‘He is gone.’
No noise. We just sat starting into the flame.
It is done. He is dead.
I send Vicky, Lulu and Georgia a text to tell them. The three sisters I have gathered in my life. The ones I want to tell first. He’s gone.
I feel calm. Quiet. Peaceful.
Everyone else left to do things and sort things out as the candle flickered. Ruby was put back to bed. I heard text messages come in.
Liz kept me updated on all the details. They were going to dress him in his favourite jeans and shoes. His father was going to collect them. These details were specific and important. There was talk about collecting his clothes and death certificates.
I sat still. Silent.
I felt deep calm and peace come over me.
Where might he be right now? Was he soaring? Was he scared? Was he relieved?
Would he come here and say goodbye? Would I feel it?
I closed my eyes for a while, to see if I could feel his presence.
I knew he was soaring, fast and high and far away already.
Eventually it was time to get up, and I realised I couldn’t. I was sitting on the floor, too low for my still-inactive muscles to lift me.
Please help me stand up, I had to text.