Your lips were dry. It's not unexpected of course. You weren't eating or drinking anything. You were lying in your bed, still. In a freezing cold room - it couldn't have been more than 15 or 16 degrees in there. Bitterly cold. That's how I remember it. A bitter cold, the kind of cold that seeps through your pores, under your skin, through your veins and into your bones. Inescapable cold. Sometimes I thought I could still feel it, even when I left the room. Until I came back to my post, and there it was again.
But in those final days, it was the only thing you responded to. Well, that and pain. It's the only way we knew a part of you, at least, was still with us. You moaned every time we adjusted the air conditioner. We almost found it funny, after the first couple of times, when it freaked us out instead. Were you hot? Did you feel hot under the covers? Or was it the noise that soothed you? I think it was the noise. All of these years later, I can't sleep without it.
Your organs were shutting down, of course. So you were cool to touch, at least on your extremities. Soft. Your feet were so soft, I can almost feel them right now. I kept moisturising your feet, more times than I can count. I knew how you were about your feet. So every hour or so, I warmed the cream in my hands and slathered onto the softest feet I've ever felt. To this day, not even my newborn sons had feet as soft as yours.
From your perfectly smooth heels, a thumb making it's way up your arches. They still felt a little like egg shells, hiding under the skin. You'd had so many cortisone injections for them, but now the egg shells were back. I worried that it hurt you, but you didn't respond. We'd been doing this the whole time you were sick, and I couldn't bear to stop it now. Up those arches to the pads of your foot, and to your tiny toes. 43 years old, and you could rarely buy a shoe in the adults section.
But so soft and small. Perfect. 40 years of never being without shoes had left your feet delicate, almost silky. Perfect Cinderella feet, I remember thinking. You took such care of your feet, so I wanted to keep that up for you, when you could not.
How have I gotten distracted? It was your lips I was thinking of, reminded suddenly while I watched a movie; visions of a woman about to die after weeks in a coma. Her lips were cracked and open, just like yours. I put your cream on them constantly, but the air conditioner, it dried them out. I wonder if they annoyed you. Could you feel them? Did you wish you could snake a tongue out, moisten them yourself? Were you frustrated that I could not keep them from getting dry?
I did your hands too, 5 or 6 times a day. I found it soothing. Not as soothing as your feet or your hair, because your hands hurt. I remember, just now, those rolled up bandages and things we used to keep your fingers from completely curling in on themselves. The splints you had to wear when you slept. Still having to massage your hands to uncurl them. Stretching, unfurling one finger at a time. You responded to that pain, at the end. Before the coma, you said it felt like your fingers were breaking every morning. I don't know how I"d forgotten until right now about those bandages and splints.
I thought I remembered every detail of those final days. I've lived them, so many times since. Smells. Sounds. Cold. There's a certain level of cold that I can't bear to feel in the bedroom. No matter how I'm feeling, once the air conditioner dips below 18degrees, it's a different feeling. Not just cold. Not about air temperature. But an ominous feeling. Like something terrible might happen.
Something terrible already did.
I remember a lot though. The feel of your feet, rubbing vaseline on your lips. Feeling your skin change. Not as elastic, somehow more papery. What was that? Dehydration? They told us we didn't need to keep pushing fluids any more, that it was time. But 5 days, it took so much longer than they'd thought. Were you thirsty? Were you in there somewhere, screaming in your mind for someone to get you something to drink?
How long were you 'there'? How long did your conscious mind remain functioning? Did you hate your dry lips? Did you wish we could wash your hair once more. I did. It was oily and every time I ran my hands over your forehead and through your hair, I wished I could wash and brush it again for you (we did again, once more after you left us). Were you thirsty? Did the bedsores of those final days hurt you? They told us not to turn you anymore, because it hurt you so much. Were they right? Did they hurt you? I've never gotten over them. I don't believe my heart will ever forget the sight of them, the shock of them. The smell and the colour and the despair of them. Did you feel them? Or had you checked out? Did the Midazolam help? God, I hope so. It's what you wanted. Enough Midaz so you had no idea what was going on.
We knew though. We can't forget. I'll never forget. It seems, no matter how many years past, my memory will serve up seemingly new details out of the blue. How many more can there be?