First thing I thought when I walked in — oh no, here we go again. Might have been the smell or those endless rows of beds, but more chilling were the corridors that led everywhere except anywhere you wanted to go. Which, usually, was out. I can’t shake it off, as I told my cousin earlier this evening, that feeling that you’re only ever in there for a reason and of course the reason is a bad one. Nobody ever says “see you again,” in these situations, and over time one gets to know the in-house food options a bit too well. People start making slightly off observations like “Wow, this ICU is much nicer than the last one I was in,” and one must grin and bear it with characteristic good (black) humour or risk going insane. Or breaking down. Or both. Because it speaks of an undesirable familiarity, kind of like how you know what your ex does with his underwear at a certain time.
And, after a few days, here we do go again. As I was telling (yet) another cousin, it doesn’t feel too long ago that I was doing this. Being the one standing there and smiling and packing up the chairs at 11pm. But strangely enough I’ve forgotten how to do most of it, like the process is still new and strange and uncomfortable. When I went in I stood there looking all awkward and unsure, like, are you supposed to be bowing three times? Do I say the prayer before or after I do the bowing? You didn’t tell me I had to sprinkle the holy water! Not a bad thing, all in all, in the grand scheme of things. I think this also falls squarely within the purview of Undesirable Familiarity. I can’t imagine what the undertaker feels like.
What this all translates to, at the end of the day, is an Undesirable Familiarity with your own mortality. Which is not to say that one needs to be all Anthem for Doomed Youth on oneself, but clearly there is still some emotional distance between your young self and your not-so-impending death, since young is as young does and for a good long while, one remains blissfully free from the taint of one’s own mortality. Yet. Yet. The first passing of each new generation is always more poignant than the ones that eventually follow, if only because it marks a new wave of depression and self-doubt and self-medication and eventually funerals. Not of others. But your own.
So therein lies the problem with a family that spans four generations. It could have been for the past six decades you have thought yourself the child, even though you are also a spouse and a parent and a grandparent. And you accepted that people were ill for x numbers of years and went regularly into hospitals for strokes and heart attacks and hip operations, and sometimes it would be a slow decline and other times it would be overnight, but you were never too surprised by the eventuality. Because it was, of course, just a matter of time. Nothing to be surprised about. But a death irrevocably marks the paradigm shift from Child to undeniably, unmistakably, Adult, and even as the generation below you moves towards a blase acceptance of the inevitable, it is you who moves to the new class of people who struggle with those mundane everyday questions of “what shall I do to keep myself healthy”, “how do I avoid going to hospital so often”, “what I shall do with all my property when I pass away” and “what will happen to my children when I die”.
I think it is scary when you find you can no longer avoid the siren song of the end of your life.