They come at dinner time, quite often, other peoples' visitors.
I only really noticed it this evening, the correlation. Sometimes family members will come to help feed a fellow traveller here on The Ward At The End Of The Universe; very often it's the last and only thing they can meaningfully do for them. I guess I missed noticing this timing thing because my own relationship with mealtimes and rituals of food has become so estranged from the average these last few years.
It's great that visiting hours are so flexible down this end of the hospital, and it couldn't be this way if we weren't an effectively separate wing from the main wards, although after regular hours we share the same single entrance and exit. It means that family and loved ones can come and go as needed by their own circumstances and feelings, and not be bothersome for those elsewhere needing a more defined period of clinical rest as they recover, or recuperate. Things we don't do much of down here.
Often, whole family groups will converge and share a mealtime. It happens regularly that the person who is the ostensible reason for their visiting is not even a part of or included in the event; they may stay asleep or otherwise in repose in their room while the tribe mill about and perform their rituals of food sharing and bonding in the common room. I wonder what they make of me, sometimes. There they all are, the whole cast of characters displaced from the Sunday barbecue and transported against their instinctive preference to a place of pilgrimage and reverence, to an afternoon or evening of familial duty, making the strange world of death and dying with its pinging appliances and its encouraged quietude somehow all their own by spreading plates about a large table and performing one of mankind's most ancient and essential rites of togetherness. As I shuffle in, cachexic and bent but smiling, nodding to each and mouthing hellos in a way that I hope indicates I cannot speak and do not wish to intrude; little red plastic jug in hand I make my way across the scene to the fridge and measure out some liquidy beigenesses from flasks and add some hot water from the kettle. Shuffle slowly out again, carefully concentrating on not spilling things. It's clear I am a client, not a visitor. What different things must they all think - if any pause to imagine my life at all, that is.
Or in the late mornings, as the visitors of others gather around that other ritual food time, when I come in with a plastic cup and a spoon and a syringe. That might be difficult for some folks to watch I suppose, but I do not feel insensitive to their feelings or needs. It merely is what it is when I pour some boiling water over a spoonful of coffee and a smearing of my home-brought medicinal herb butter and fill the cup up with kefir from my stash in the fridge, stir, plug in and tube-feed it right there leaning by the sink just like I'd do in my own home. Clean up. Shuffle back out. I nearly never get commentary, and am seldom even kindly questioned. I guess it's just too outside the norm to fit. And any visitor here is by simple virtue of being here not in their usual social headspace. What would you think, seeing this, in the absence of any information than what your eyes shows you?
It's such a great leveller though, the presence of dying. I never feel like I'm really intruding on their grief or privacy or group space, because in large part there is no territory that can be claimed here. The ownership of space is necessarily even more deeply transient than a hospital ward not because of quick turnover of patients or anything suchlike; rather because of the relative finality of relinquishing such space as we clients inhabit (and thus claim by proxy for our visitors) while we are still breathing the air here. There is often slight awkwardness; although one encounters precious glimpses of emotions and personal depths rarely displayed or allowed in public it never seems to rear up as an issue or a problem. Even in great distress there is this overlaying code of acceptance. Of sharing, of egalitarianism, and above all of the desire for peace.
That's it. A desire for peace. In the face of what can only really be defined by a passing observer, like the visitor of another, as impending death, the thing that underpins any interaction is that single basic assumption: That we all in the end just want peace.
Peace be with you.