Skip to content

User login


The end of the road

  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/popularc/public_html/includes/ on line 345.
  • : preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /home/popularc/public_html/includes/ on line 345.

January 3, 2009 by Valerie Gowlett

"I'm sorry, Mr. Burgh, but you're going to die," the physician said gently, "We can do nothing for you. You have cancer in your lungs and in your bones. I'm very sorry. May I suggest that you put your affairs in order?" As the two men shook hands, tears rolled down my cheeks. Why wasn't he upset? Why didn't he cry? "I don't want to die," I would have proclaimed. I could see myself screaming at the doctor. "Do something. You must be able to do something. I don't want to die."

His face was serene and resigned. As we walked back to the car no-one spoke. The world went on in its usual disinterested fashion. The traffic lights went through their motions, slowly, methodically as they always did. I wondered how they could do that when my mind was in such turmoil. The planet hadn't registered that my world was disintegrating around me. What was I going to do without him? How was she going to manage without him?

The big C is a proclamation of death. But the big C is in all of us; it just takes something to trigger it. Where then had it started? Was it her fault? Six months ago she had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Just a small, four centimeter lesion they said but they whisked her away immediately, cutting into the stomach that was so precious to me. From where I had evolved. Virtually slicing her in half, from her breast bone to her pubic hair. There was more, the insidious monster had eaten her ovary. Was it this then that had triggered his big C, or was it because they were soul mates, and what happened to one, must happen to the other?

I opened the front door, turned off the alarm and brought in the groceries, but it wasn't me. It was a shadowy me, doing the things I usually do, while I was in another place. I made a cup of tea. I said things like, "Take your coats off. Do you want a biscuit?" Stupid irrelevant things. He was going to die. In twelve months he was going to die. I wanted to hug him, to cry over him, to tell him how much I loved and needed him but I didn't. I made tea.

We didn't talk about it. I wonder, now, if he would have liked to talk about it. But we didn't. I didn't even ask. We talked about everything but it. He said he felt relief that they had found something. His dear face was composed and calm. It was smooth, smoother than I remembered. He had a lovely English complexion, peach cheeks and cream skin. Clear blue eyes and thinning hair. The birthmark over his left eye was in its pale mode. His attitude was relaxed, resigned, almost happy. He had been feeling unwell for some time, and had constantly been told there was nothing wrong with him. He had been feeling like a fraud when he rested more, coughed more, took more pills. There was nothing wrong with him. It was all in his mind.

Bravely, he had made the trip from Adelaide to Perth to see me. After all there was nothing wrong with him. His persistent cough irritated me. I dragged him along to my doctor for cough medicine or antibiotics. On the way, I gave him lollies to suck. My doctor started to write the script but then he looked at him, contemplating. He examined his eyes, his ears, his throat. Took his blood pressure. Umm'd a little.

"Have you ever been a smoker?" he asked, frowning down at him. "I think we better do some x-rays." I didn't want to spend the whole day traipsing around getting x-rays. I was on holiday. I didn't want to know he had spots on his lungs. I wanted antibiotics to cure his cough.

I wondered if, when they retired that night, they hugged and declared their love for one another. Did they weep together? Or did they give each other their usual nightly peck and turn over and go to sleep? Was that when she vowed to live long enough, to take care of him? But who was to take care of her, when he was gone? The strength of her will kept her alive far longer than they predicted. She was determined to honour her unvoiced vow to him.

I saw them off at the airport as if in a dream. I wept as their backs disappeared down the corridor. I wondered if I would see either of them again because Adelaide is so far away. I just pecked their cheeks. I wanted to cling to them and not let them go but I was afraid I would sob uncontrollably and embarrass them in front of everyone. So I just pecked their cheeks stiffly. Holding in all the tension and emotions I felt. I was so helpless, so inadequate after all they had done for me. I would have done anything for them, but I didn't have the power to fight the big C.

Later, as the words kept repeating in my mind "You are going to die." I became angry because my mother should have gone to the doctor nine months earlier. She'd been a nurse, for crying out loud. She should have recognized her symptoms. My father's doctor should have sent him for x-rays months earlier. He knew he'd been a smoker. My brother and sisters should have known they were sick. They should have taken better care of them. I was angry because I lived so far away, because I was powerless, because I was hurt. I was angry because it affected me, me, me. I was angry at the world. It had the audacity to go on as if nothing had happened. I wanted it to stop. I wanted it to do something. I wanted a miracle. The world that had been so good to me was letting me down. It was a traitor. I kept asking myself "Why do people have to die? What is the point of all this?" I'd had them all my life. Nothing had been so constant, so dependable. Nothing would ever be the same again. No one had ever told me what it would be like to lose your roots, your essence, and the frame around your existence that held you together. I blamed them as if it were their choice.

I held his hand as he took his last breath. I screamed as the monster spilled all over the sheets. Staining them with copious amounts of blood and mucus. It had no use for him now. I grabbed the nurse's arm when she tried to cover his face with the sheet.
"He's not dead,"I cried. "See how hot he is." Perspiration still rained down his face. My mother comforted me as I sobbed over the burning hand. She comforted me when I should have been comforting her. She did not cry; she said she had seen horrible deaths like this before. She held in her emotions like the controlled nurse she had once been.

All through the funeral she was composed and quiet. Busying herself greeting people, as if it were just another party. Then, as the hearse pulled away, I saw her chasing it down the road. My brother ran after her, pulling her to a stop, while she berated him with blows. We half-carried, half-pulled her into the car and drove her home.

My mother didn't want to die. She wouldn't let me drive past the end of the road where the cemetery was because she knew she'd end up there.

Twelve months before she sang in the kitchen while creating masterpiece lamingtons, trifles and pies. He paddled around quietly, in his shed, making toys for the local kindergarten. He mended things, pruned the trees, buried the scraps from the table. They did these things in the way they always had as if they had years to look forward to.

Now a cavern had opened up and swallowed them whole while I stood there, helplessly, as if my hands were tied, watching them slide away.