One of our number departed early this morning; I heard her go. Well, not exactly. What happened was that I awakened, unusually, at just after 7AM feeling completely perfect, fine and refreshed, and even my room seemed full of light. Except the sun wasn't properly up yet. Then I heard it, what could only be the sound of the daughters I have come to know a little in the shared kitchen reacting to their mother's NOW finality. I stood for a moment, paid my silent respects to my erstwhile neighbour, and went back to sleep. By the time I left my room at 10 the room was empty, cleaned and changed, the whiteboard by the door erased too, all the people drained away to other places.
I'd been seeing clues. This lady, I'd been told, really liked her sweet foods, and one of her daughters was bringing in treats of chocolate cake, and jellies, and icecreams, and ... they were starting to pile up a bit in the fridge, untouched, the last three or four days.
There is a sense of camaraderie down here on the ward, most especially amongst the clients. Although we do not converse generally, I fancy that we consider each other from time to time, and that there must be for each of us at least some sense of a kinship of the dying. So I figure my other remaining neighbour, she who was previously nameless but whose whiteboard has lately sprouted both a single name and a childlike drawing of a 'nanna' face, felt the loss of One Of Us in some way too. And now she is doing That Breathing Thing, and the numbers of quiet new visitors are growing as the day goes on. Word must have gotten around that the time is soon.
Meditating on time the other day as you do, simply noting just how much of my life involves knowing what time it is - a glance at a clock happens so frequently - yet having no good reason to know, the wall clock in my room suddenly threw itself off the wall to its noisy death in shards of cheap plastic and machine parts six feet below. Just like that.
Now I can no longer glance at a clock and have to consciously look at my watch. I discover it only takes that little bit of marginal discomfort and effort (tight long sleeves in this weather and dodgy hands means no casual wrist flick glance, I have to drag the darn thing out and down and remove any sunglasses because I can't read the screen through polarised lenses) to entirely change my behaviour. I just hardly ever look. Timekeeping was just like so many other things, a dance of habit, of empatterning, of rhythm and tesselation. Grown-up version of rocking oneself in the cradle, I suppose.
Time down here on the ward does not match time outside anyway. If you are very gentle with yourself, if you can carefully breathe off all the accreted layers of preconception and belief about How Things Are, you can detect time running in different ways for different folks down here, we clients especially. Some of the old-hand nurses see it quite clearly. It is they who make timely phone calls to gather family members, etc. Apparently, my observed time has changed lately too.
Still, I enjoy the idea of our little corps of dying comrades down here on TWATEOTU, that we operate to that (US Maries Corp I think) creed of "No Man Left Behind." By which I mean "all are welcome to join the death space, unjudged. You shall not be left out alone."
I suspect that by the time I go home Monday, I might be leaving an empty ward though. And that's the other thing we all have so poignantly in common: No-one can say for sure.