I can feel myself drifting into sleep now. Dad's still holding my hand. It's still a little hard to breathe and my body still aches, but it helps to think about something that isn't the pain. Because I know that it's just going to get worse. That we're in the middle of my final run. And I think maybe I'm starting to be ready. Maybe it's just the morphine kicking in, but I can feel everything going sort of hazy. And it's a nice feeling.
I'm tired. And it's different now than it was before. I'm tired all the time now. It doesn't seem to matter how much I sleep, which is a lot more than I'm awake. I just can't get my energy back. I'm awake now, but only barely. Dad is asleep in the chair next to me. Haley is asleep on the uncomfortable sofa and Mom and Sarah are praying the Rosary in chairs by the window. They've been praying a lot of Rosaries the past few days. Nobody has noticed that I'm awake just yet, and it's nice to be able to just watch them for a moment.
I hate that they're all stuck here. Hell, I hate that I'm stuck here. I promised myself a while ago, so long as I could help it, that I would not die in this hospital bed. I wanted to wait until it was time. I wanted to wait until I knew I was out of days, but I think it's as close as I can let it get. I'm still not really ready, but I'm ready enough.
I shift around as best I can and Mom looks over at me. She moves to put her Rosary down but I shake my head at her. She should finish. They've just started the final decade. I join into the third Hail Mary. And we say the rest of the prayers together. "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit," we finish. "Amen."
Mom and Sarah both kiss their Rosaries and tuck them away. Mom comes to sit on the side of my bed. "How're you feeling?" she asks.
I smile. "Tired." She put her hand on my knee and squeezes a little. "Mom?" She looks up. "You should wake up Dad and Hales. I want to talk." It takes me longer than it should to get my sentence out so I pull the oxygen that I've recently been burdened with a little tighter to my nose.
"Okay," Mom agrees, but I can tell I'm worrying her. She gets up to nudge Haley and Sarah wakes Dad.
"Hi, honey," Dad greets me and I smile at him. I could never properly convey how wonderful I think my father is. He's the kind of man that would do anything for you, the kind of father that takes his kids fishing and teaches them how to throw a ball. He's the kind of person that loves, that would sit up at night just to reassure my worries about the world. And he's the kind of person that believes in God. Which, I've come to understand, is the best kind of person.
Haley pulls a chair over and Mom sits back on my bed. Sarah settles herself onto my father's lap, though she's really too big to do that anymore. But Dad doesn't mind, and Sarah's his baby, after all. "I want to talk to you," I tell them. Silence. I take as a deep a breath as I can manage and sit up a little straighter.
I've played this conversation over many times in my own head, and every time it sort of feels like telling them I'm calling it quits, but that isn't it. That isn't it at all. I just desperately don't want to die here. "I want to go home," I finally force out.
"Honey..." Mom starts and I shake my head.
"No, I don't mean like..." I look down at my hands and fold them in my lap to stop them from shaking. "Mom." I look up at her and I can feel my throat betraying me and the tears pricking the backs of my eyes. "I don't want to die here."
Sarah tucks her head against Dad's shoulder and he puts a hand over her hair.
"Gracie," Mom's eyes are full of tears. "I don't..." I look at Haley but she's stone faces and quiet.
"Maybe," Dad tries, "we should just give it a few days. Let you..." He trails off. He was going to say rest, I think, or get better. Neither of which are going to happen.
I bite by bottom lip and crack my knuckles. "I don't think we have more than a few days."
Dad's crying now too. Not me though. I've pulled my tears back and for once, I'm going to be the strong one. I'm not going to cry. I've been through a lot in the past year or so, and most of it I have handled with something much less than grace. But it's time for me to be as graceful as I can about this. Because it's not my time to hurt. It's theirs. It's time for me to let go. It's just... "It's time." Dad shakes his head and I take his hand. "Daddy. I want to go home." He nods and I hear Mom sniffle. "It's okay." I smile and take Mom's hand with my other. "I'm ready. I want to die at home."
I can hear Sarah sobbing softly into Dad's shoulder and Haley has tucked her knees to her chest. Mom is holding my hand with her left and covering her mouth with her right. None of them say anything. Because there's nothing much left to say. It's just a statement of fact. It's time to go home.
Jillian's coming to see me today before I leave. I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to say to her. I mean, I've done the goodbye thing before. I did it with Mark. I did it with Julie. But this is different. Jilly is my best friend. She's the pieces of me that I'm not. She's the piece that makes me brave, the piece that makes me want to dance like an idiot. She's the encouraging piece, the piece that always has faith in me. How do I let that go? How do I say goodbye to another person who is so much of me? Is it possible for me to just...run out of pieces?
Jilly comes in just like she always does. She plops herself down on my bed and she's smiling at me, but her eyes are red and puffy and I know she's been crying the whole way over. I smile back at her. "Hey."
"Hi," she says.
"You didn't come by yourself?"
She shakes her head. "Tanner's here. He's in the waiting room with your parents. I didn't want to drive myself home after...you know."
I nod at her. "Yeah." I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to say, but I know I'm supposed to say something. She's my best friend, after all. I decide that maybe it's just better to hug her, so I hold my arms out and pull her into me. She hugs me back tight. "I love you," I tell her and I'm crying. "I just...I just love you."
I can hear her sobbing into my shoulder. "I love you too," she says but it's muffled and watery. I don't let her go just yet. I hold onto her. I hold onto all the memories that I have with her. I hold onto the times that she made me laugh and the times that I wanted to roll my eyes at her. I hold onto her because I'm just not ready to let her go.
"Grace," she sobs. "What am I gonna' do without my best friend?"
I take a breath but it's too shaky. "You're gonna do fine," I tell her. "You're gonna...get married and have...awesome kids and a cool career," I laugh.
She pulls herself tighter against me and we both cry for another couple of minutes until we shift so that we're not really hugging anymore but her arm is wrapped around mine and the sides of our heads are leaned together. "Who's gonna' be my maid of honor?" she whispers.
I smile and blink through my blurry vision. "I guess you'll have to pick a favorite sister," I tease and she laughs. The thought of Jillian picking between her four sisters is ridiculous.
"...Maybe I'll just leave a place for you," she says.
That makes me smile and I squeeze her hand. "Yeah," I agree. "And if watching you is something I can do over there...I'll be front and center."
I nod. "Yeah. Promise."
She sits with me for a while longer. I'm tired, but I don't mention it. I don't want her to go yet. We don't really say anything, but there's really not much that needs to be said. I'm quiet and we're both still crying. I just can't picture myself without Jilly anymore. And I can't picture Jilly without me. But the time comes for me to be discharged. "I gotta' go, Jilly," I tell her and she nods.
She turns to face me and pulls me into her one last time. "I love you, Jill," I tell her.
"I love you, Grace," she says. It's too soft and full of tears but it makes me smile anyway.
She pulls back and I squeeze her hand again. "Bye, Jilly."
We're both still crying as she walks to the door, and when she reaches it, she turns back around to look at me again. She raises her hand in a wave and I reach mine up and set it over my heart. She nods once and then slips through the door.