It isn’t really solstice today. I thought it always occurred on the 21st of December, but I was wrong. Every fourth year it’s on the 22nd day. I am 31 years old and no one ever told me this.
It’s been over a year since my first surgery. Over a year since I was readmitted for infection. I’ve found myself thinking about that time a lot recently. It has been a long year.
I’ve even talked about Lynn. I don’t think I’ve written about her here. I spoke to almost no one about her. She was in Sunnybrook when I was readmitted. She was in the same room I had originally been in, but she was in my bed. I have a story of why she was there, a memory, but I don’t know if it is accurate. There was a lot of drugs and fever and pain and time has only scrambled the memories even more. She was young, only a few years older than me. She was being treated for metastatic breast cancer. She was admitted to the hospital because she was dizzy and the doctors weren’t sure why. They wanted to run some tests.
I could get around better than Lynn could, and I would take my IV pole and leave the ward to buy us coffee which inevitably neither of us could drink. I remember one of her doctors coming in to our room when it was just the two of us, pulling the curtain between our beds and telling Lynn that she was dizzy because her brain was bleeding and giving her mini-strokes. He told her they couldn’t do anything about it. She asked him if that was why she was having trouble with her speech, with finding the words for commonplace objects, tasks, movements. He said it could be, but suggested she was grasping for words because she was experiencing stress. I lay in my bed and wondered why a doctor would tell a patient that she was dying without waiting until a family member was there. I was embarrassed that she had to have me witness.
Because it was clear that Lynn’s decline was happening rapidly, her family was allowed to stay the nights until home care was set up for her at a friend’s who’d offered his home to her to die in. He took the first shift on the first night the family was allowed to stay. We ate mandarins together and talked in whispers so we wouldn’t wake Lynn. When her brother took over, we talked about books. I could never sleep.
I was sad. The only person I wanted around — almost the only person I let around — was my ex-boyfriend who had come from Montreal to take care of me. We stole wheelchairs and explored the hospital. Made up stories about the bad art on the walls. The night nurse in charge of my care let us hide out in the family room long after visiting hours were over. She didn’t even make me go back to my room to get my shots or take my pills. She just found me where I was, injected me with painkillers in the hallway. She knew I wanted to give Lynn and her family their space.
Sometimes it was just me and Lynn. As the intensity of her headaches increased, her grasp on language decreased. I translated for her when I could. I screamed at nurses and cried for her when they didn’t come fast enough with morphine. They never came fast enough. I brought blankets, so many blankets, and piled them on top of her. I sat with her and stroked her arm while she waited yet again for a nurse to come with an injection to make her head stop hurting, and she looked at me and squeezed my hand and said, mercy. Her brother said that she was naming me. Then there was confusion and so many doctors and nurses and I had to leave the room.
I left the hospital a couple of days before Lynn. I had tried to stay until she was sent home, but I was proclaimed “good enough” to leave. I didn’t want another person to take my bed. Lynn died surrounded by her family on the solstice.
So I’ve been thinking about Lynn. And I thought it was time to write about her, what little I can. She had grace. By saying this, I am not simply canonizing the dead. There is more I am not sharing, pieces I am keeping for myself. But today I felt like sharing.
I don’t know how to end this, so I’ll end it like this. After I left the hospital, I kept in touch with Lynn’s brother. We sent back and forth some of our favourite passages. He sent me this passage from James Joyce’s, “The Dead”:
Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.