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She's Gone
An empty bed
Photo: Niels Laan
It was 4:43 a.m. when I got the page. Mechanically, I groped for the Blackberry on my night stand and stared at the screen. The patient was a 42-year-old woman who had just died of cirrhosis of the liver.

Numbly, I pulled on my clothes, Map Quested her location and headed out the door. The cobwebs began to clear my mind as I sped silently down the road.

Arriving at her apartment, I was greeted at the door by her visibly shaken husband who ushered me into their sparsely furnished home. There she lay – this mother of six – on a hospital bed in the living room, yellow and aged well beyond her 42 years. The smell of incense permeated the air like dank perfume. “She had a hard life,” her husband knowingly confided.
One by one, those who loved her rose from their make shift beds to pay their final respects. Her 19-year-old daughter wept bitterly, while her grade school friend of 34 years sobbed uncontrollably. Her 12-year-old girl stood forlornly in front of the refrigerator, hoping perhaps, to find some solace in food. Her 8-year-old son asked me about coffins, then bolted from the room in search of a box of tissues. Attempting to balance his small body by standing on a makeshift balloon fashioned from a blown up latex glove, the woman’s 18-month-old grandson spoke not a word.

The End of the Road

A knock at the door announced the arrival of the mortuary. Two Hispanic men dressed in business suits, wrapped the lifeless mother in a sheet, lifted her to the gurney, strapped her in and carried her down the flight of stairs to their van. Her family trailed after.

Only the 18-month-old was left behind. As he stared at the now empty bed that had once held his grandmother, he glanced at the door then turned to me and spoke his first words. “She gone?” “Yes,” I gently replied. “She gone.”

I’m sure she never dreamed her life would end this way, at such a young age. When she took her first drink as a teenager she was just experimenting – looking for some fun and excitement. Alcohol made her feel better about herself, less self conscious and shy. And, she was accepted by the cool crowd.

But one drink led to another and eventually into an addictive cycle she couldn’t break. Her liver did its best to detoxify the perpetual onslaught of poisonous juice but in the end, it broke down. Then, her kidneys failed. She died tragically, well before her time, leaving behind a lonely husband and six children who must now face life without their mother.

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By Kathy A Lewis. Copyright © 2010 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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