This flash fiction offering, served up via Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds, is about death. Due in great part to my immediate reaction, which was to pretend I hadn’t read his post, there was no doubt I had to tackle it. Disclosure: this is a fictionalized accounting (changed names, etc.) of my personal experience.
Light After Death
When Kay saw the name on her caller I.D., she knew. She pressed a trembling hand to her heart; a deep ache started, and spread to her throat. She touched the screen, saying, “Hello, Rob. How are you?”
“I’m…okay. How are you?”
“Just fine, thank you,” she said aloud, grabbing a pencil and holding it so tight it snapped in two.
“What?! But she was fine last night. I mean, she was okay.”
“We think she was waiting to see her Mom. Now that she’s been here…”
He didn’t have to finish. Kay and Rob shared similar beliefs when it came to life and death. Ivy had waited to see her mother, who had traveled from the other side of the country, one last time before her failing body gave out. Joan had left for home this morning; back to her ailing husband.
“I’ll come right after work. I’ll be there in a couple hours.” The last few words were barely audible, thick as they were with unshed tears.
“Okay. See you soon, hon.”
His tender tone broke the dam of tears. Kay paused long enough for the call to disconnect, and then pressed the key to call Emma at work.
“Good afternoon. This is Emma.”
“Hi, Emma,” Kay said on a sob.
“Oh, no. No!”
That she hadn’t needed to articulate what was happening didn’t surprise Kay. Their relationship was profound. There was a brief moment of silence while both women allowed the pain to have its way.
“Kay, I’ll meet you at your house at 5:30. We’ll go together. I can’t believe this is happening. Is she at home?”
“No. She’s at the Hospice center,” she said, swallowing hard. “I can’t believe it either, Emma. I’ll see you at 5:30.”
“I love you,” they said in unison before ending the call.
Before she lost her nerve, Kay called Dan, Ivy’s husband. He answered immediately, explaining how Ivy’s ability to breathe on her own had decreased sharply and rapidly, and how her pain level had risen equally so. He told her the visiting nurse insisted Ivy be moved to Hospice, in spite of Ivy’s strong objection.
Ivy had wanted to die at home among her eclectic, found treasures, her pets, and her family, but the pain was unmanageable. The nurse took charge of calling an ambulance for transport, and the chief of police, a personal friend of their family, had arrived with the EMTs to support Dan, and to say goodbye to Ivy.
“It won’t be long,” Dan told her before they hung up.
At 5:30, Kay shared a silent, tearful hug with Emma in her driveway before they climbed solemnly into her running car, warmed against the chill air. They rehashed the day’s events during the half-hour drive, and Kay shared the additional information she had received from Dan.
At 6:00, Kay turned off her car in the parking lot of the regional Hospice center. In spite of the large, paved area, and the wide, sliding entry doors, the building itself looked more like a sprawling home than a medical facility.
Hand-in-hand, they walked into the tasteful lobby, signed in, and then were directed to Ivy’s room. The halls were winding, and eerily quiet. Most of the patient rooms were occupied, and they could hear murmured conversations as they walked by.
Turning a corner, they found themselves in a waiting area, where half a dozen people Kay recognized sat on couches and chairs. Greetings were exchanged, and conversation ebbed and flowed. Kay took a few minutes to call several close friends and let them know what was happening.
Dan appeared, and hugged Kay and Emma before ushering them into Ivy’s room. The lights had been dimmed, giving the room a cozy feeling that was lost on Ivy, who was grimacing with pain.
Kay and Emma took a heartbeat to assimilate the fragile being on the bed with their strong, oftentimes boisterous friend, and then took positions on either side of the bed.
Kay leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to Ivy’s forehead. “Hi, honey.”
“I hurt, Miss Kay,” Ivy said. More often than not, that was how she addressed Kay, and others had fallen into the habit because of it.
Kay nodded. “I know. Dan said they gave you a good dose of morphine. You won’t hurt much longer.”
“We have an early birthday present for you,” Emma said, glancing at Kay with a tearful smile.
The idea had come to Kay weeks earlier, and a quick email chat with Emma was all it took to implement it. Kay reached into her tote bag, and pulled out a framed certificate. She and Emma held it up so Ivy could easily see it.
“You’re a star, Ivy,” Emma said. “You’re a real star.”
Their gift had been to name a star after Ivy. Her smile in response was all it took to start Emma and Kay crying again, joined by Dan, as well as Dan and Ivy’s two daughters, who had slipped quietly into the room.
A nurse came in to check on Ivy, and give her more morphine; the pain still hadn’t subsided. Another woman entered, a Reiki practitioner, and asked Ivy if she could put her hands on her. Ivy nodded gratefully.
Kay and Emma returned to the waiting room and sat beside Rob and Mark. Scant minutes later, a cry rang out from Ivy’s room, eliciting sobs of grief from those who were gathered.
Dan and the girls emerged from the room and were enveloped with hugs. All of the sudden, they were all standing in a circle, linked together.
“The Reiki master said, when Ivy passed, she felt a surge of joy and saw a burst of light,” Dan told them. “She said she never experienced anything like it before.”
“She’s a star,” Emma said. “She’ll always be a star; our star.”
They all smiled through their tears.