Saying Goodbye (short fiction)


It wasn’t her death that was upsetting to me. It was the dying. I was glad when it was over. For her sake, and my own.

I know it sounds harsh, but that was five years. Five long years of cleaning up vomit, of late nights and close calls. Five years of broken commitments, false hopes, and missed opportunities.

People, God bless them, they were always trying to console me, “Imagine if she had just passed away without warning? At least you had a chance to say goodbye”. That was true, I sure did say my goodbyes to her. Multiple times. By the end, I had lost count.

What my well-wishing friends fail to realise is that saying goodbye is one of the most painful experiences of your life. Imagine explaining to a child that they are dying. That one day they won’t wake up. That they will “pass on”, whatever that means.  Just to have them rebound and recover.

The emotional roller coaster of relapse to remission and back again puts everything on hold. I had to quit my job, with no carers leave to speak of following the first battle. They just couldn’t keep me on.

The guys in the office raised a small amount for me, and were supportive. In the beginning at least. You know how when someone first falls ill, or is injured, everyone is quick to offer support and help? That doesn’t last, those people just don’t stay.

Who can blame them? After a while I lost all ability to maintain any semblance of small talk, other than progressively worsening status reports as to my only child’s dwindling health.

Don’t get me wrong, a quick death, without an opportunity for goodbye would be just as traumatic. It just wouldn’t last as long.

Early December two years ago, she went into a remission. The doctors suggested that they were quietly hopeful that it would stick. Regardless of her health, we would always celebrate Christmas. True, more often than not, it was a sombre affair. Held in the hospital ward, we were careful not to disturb the other patients.

But not that year. That year we had friends and family down from all corners of the big green one. We ate until we burst, then excitedly tore into the mound of presents stored under the real tree. My husband having chopped it down himself earlier that week. Given the size of his VW bug, I have no idea how he managed to see out of the windscreen beyond the fallen branches on his way back home. That night, we all prayed to God, showing thanks for our daughter’s recovery.

By March she was in full bore relapse again. I said my goodbyes to her and my husband on the same night.

“I can’t handle this. I can’t go through this again.”
“Do you think I can? It’s not about us Steve, it is about her!”

When he told me that he hoped that she would be taken, that her fight be over, I slapped him and told him to go.

“If that is how you feel, say your goodbyes and be done with us.”

Two years later and I now feel that same relief he was craving then. When I got the news of her passing, tears fell. Hot bittersweet tears of mourning, but also relief. I hated my husband for what he had said. I too was feeling it back then, but I guess I couldn’t face it as he could. Regardless, because of it, I kept him from her. Neither me, nor my daughter had seen him since. And now, here I am, alone.

When she was in remission for the final time, I knew not to get my hopes up. I knew the trend, it would play out like clockwork. I was numb to it. Every time she sneezed, coughed or vomited, was fresh cause for alarm. Every bruise that wasn’t healing, every scratch, and every meal left untouched.

When she did fall sick again, I just sighed. Hating myself for the thoughts that were already beginning to flood my mind.

Authors note: This piece came from the melding of two influences in my life. The first is the birth of my son, who at the time of writing was 10 months old. The thought of him sick or hospitalised is terrifying. The second came from reading Jodie Picoult's "My Sisters Keeper" (if you haven't already, please read it!). The stress and strain that the family is put under due to a terminally ill daughter  is portrayed well. With these influences in mind, it was not much of a stretch to imagine a mother being rundown by the sheer weight of emotions caused by a dying child.