Caring Christopher

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#31 Final goodbyes


There are so many things going through my mind as I round up Davy and Yoah and put them in the car that it’s hard to make sense of all of them. The boys were playing with Nathan’s daughter Rose and some of the other kids at the party, unwilling to get out of the bouncing castle at first, but when Yoah saw my expression he grabbed Davy and they followed me to the front yard.

Abby meets us at the car, dragging Jagger along by his ear. He’s shouting profanities at her, but she doesn’t let go. I shut the car door once Davy is strapped in, and turn to Abby, who shoves Jagger towards the car with a scowl on her face.

“That’s physical abuse, you stupid bitch,” Jagger grumbles, rubbing his bright red ear. “Wait till I call Mary about this.”

“I found this one half-naked in Aston’s art studio, on top of some girl that lives on the block,” Abby explains, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Jagger…” I sigh and run a hand over my face. “We’ll talk about this later. We need to get home right now. Your mother isn’t doing well.”

His entire demeanor changes when I say that, and he immediately gets in the back with his brothers, putting an arm around Yoah. Abby and I lock eyes, nodding at each other when we silently agree to circle back to this Jagger thing later, because we can’t have him fucking girls he just met at our friends’ birthday parties, obviously, but now is not the time for a lengthy conversation about this. Part of me wishes we could deal with his juvenile behavior instead of rushing home to a dying woman. I’d much rather fight with Jagger than watch the boys lose their mother.

Thank God we live close. I pull up on our driveway only a few minutes later, thanking my lucky stars that we didn’t walk like we usually do when we go over to Aston’s and Annabel’s. There is an ambulance parked on the curb, making my heart sink. Things must be as bad as they can get for paramedics to show up here. I let us into the house and we all run upstairs, where Edward is waiting for us in the hallway, looking worn.

“I called 911,” he says in a low voice, trying to talk to me without the kids overhearing. “There are two paramedics with her right now, but Chris…” He shakes his head, conveying to me that this is it. She won’t make it.

I tell the others to stay here for a moment, and go into the room on my own. I go straight into doctor mode, asking the paramedics how she’s doing, checking her vitals myself just to be sure. I know both of the medics, and they’re great at their job, both of them having saved people who seemed beyond saving, but there is nothing even they can do for Dorothy at this point.

“Her heart is giving up,” one of them tells me, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Sorry, Dr. Davids. We gave her some more morphine to make her comfortable, but that’s all we can do.”

“How long?” I ask, even though I already know the answer. This isn’t my first time standing at the bedside of a dying patient, after all. It’s just the first time it’s someone who I’m close to, and who is living in my home.

“An hour, maybe two,” he says, confirming my suspicions. “She’ll slip away peacefully at least.”

I nod, thanking both of them. We make sure she looks as peaceful as she can, and I dim the lights a little before letting the kids in. Davy sits down on the chair next to the bed, pulling his knees to his chest, crying softly. Yoah wraps his arms around his little brother, his eyes dry, but his lip quivering. Jagger just stands in the doorway, looking like he wants to bolt. I approach him, but he turns away from me, taking a step into the room and slumping down against the wall right next to the door.

Abby talks to the paramedics in the hallway and sees them out. I hear her say something to Edward, thanking him, and then she steps into the small bedroom as well, looking at Dorothy’s sleeping body with tears in her big green eyes.

“This fucking sucks,” she says out loud, sinking down onto the matrass Jagger has been sleeping on since he started living with us. It’s unmade and it reeks of his smelly feet, but she doesn’t seem to care. “She doesn’t deserve to die. She was such a good mother to you guys.”

“It really fucking sucks,” Jagger agrees in a whisper. His eyes are closed and I want to comfort him in some way, wrap my arms around him and hold him, but I know he won’t let me. Not right now. He’s shutting down, and there’s nothing I can do to help him.

Looking at the kids, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing letting them be here to see their mother slowly leave this world. Abby and I have been talking about this moment since we moved Dorothy into the house, and we’ve talked to a grief counselor about it as well, who told us that while watching her die will be traumatizing, it won’t mess them up more than they already are. Being there can give them a sense of closure and peace that they won’t get if we keep them out of the room. Jagger already told me that he wants to be there, and I think it would be good for Yoah as well. Davy is too young for any of this, but I’m not going to take him away from his brothers at a time like this. They need each other. I’ve already signed them up for grief counseling, and I will make a call later today to get all three of them their first appointments as soon as possible. We’ll get them through this.

“You can hold her hand if you want,” I tell Yoah when I see he is looking at Dorothy with pain in his eyes. “She’s just sleeping.”

He takes Dorothy’s hand in one of his, his other arm still around Davy. I walk over and sink down onto my knees, pulling Davy to me. He latches onto me like a monkey, his arms and legs going around me so tightly that the breath gets knocked out of me for a moment. I lift him from the chair and sit down with him in my lap. Jagger moves over to put another chair next to mine, sitting down on it and grabbing Yoah to put him on his lap. He’s too big for that, but neither of the boys care about how uncomfortable they are. Jagger pulls his fingers through Yoah’s hair soothingly while Yoah hold his mother’s hand and watches her face. She looks peaceful, finally no longer in pain.

“Is there anything you want to say to her?” Abby asks from her place on the matrass on the other side of the bed. I only see the top of her head, but I can tell from her choked voice that she’s fighting her tears.

“No,” Jagger says in a strangled voice.

Abby stand up now, so we can see her. She’s not crying, but it won’t take much to push her over the edge. She swallows visibly and sits down on the foot of the bed, her hand on one of Dorothy’s ankles. “I want to thank you, Dorothy,” she says softly. “Thank you for bringing Christopher and your three boys into my life. Thank you for accepting me, flaws and all, and taking the time to talk to me and get to know me even though you didn’t have to.”

Jagger lets out a strangled noise and he pulls Yoah tighter to his chest. “She was such a fucking bitch sometimes,” he breathes. “She had absolutely no idea what to do with the likes of me, but she loved me so much. And I love her.”

“Tell her,” I urge him. “She’s still here.”

“I love you, Mom,” he says, his eyes closed while he talks. “I’m sorry I’m such a fuck-up. I’m sorry I made it so hard for you to raise me. I’m sorry I told you that…” He’s choking up now. “I’m sorry I told you that you deserved to get cancer when you first got your diagnosis. I didn’t mean it. I just… After what happened to Dad…”

Oh God, I had no idea how messed-up his relationship with his mother was. I put a hand in his hair, pulling my fingers through it like he was doing to Yoah just a moment ago. He relaxes a little, leaning into my touch.

“I’m so fucking sorry, Mom,” he whispers. “I swear I will take good care of Yoah and Davy from now on. And I will apologize to Aunt Becky. She’s a bitter old hag, but she didn’t deserve all the crap I put her through. She didn’t know what to with me, just like you. I’m not sure anyone knows what to do with me.”

Abby laughs, surprising all of us. Jagger’s eyes fly open and I focus on her too, seeing her smiling through her tears.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Jagger,” she says in an amused tone. “You’re not the first teenager to act out, you know. I don’t think any parents of teenagers know what the hell they’re doing. Chris and I are basically faking it half the time.”

“Only half the time?” I reply, smiling as well. “I’m pretty sure I’m faking it all the time.”

“That’s what she said,” Jagger quips, making me laugh in spite of everything.

“Stop laughing!” Yoah burst out suddenly, jumping up from Jagger’s lap. “My mother is dying!”

“We know, honey,” Abby says softly. “And we’re hurting, too. We just want to remember the good times too, because your mother was such a vibrant, kind woman. What is your favorite thing about her?”

Yoah shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“Her peanut butter cookies,” Jagger says, pulling Yoah back to him. “She always ruins them, and we can only eat the middle without breaking our teeth on them, but she loves baking them and the house smells amazing when she does.”

“Oh, I remember that,” Yoah says softly.

“I don’t,” Davy says sadly, nuzzling his face against my neck.

“We can make them later,” Jagger tells his little brother, reaching over to ruffle his hair. “Mom gave me all her recipes. I will teach you. What will you miss about Mom, Davy?”

Davy turns in my arms so he can look at his mother’s sleeping form. “She makes up rules to games because she doesn’t like reading the instructions,” he says with a little smile. “And she draws great giraffes and elephants. She was teaching me how to do them, because Chris sucks at drawing them.”

“Hey,” I say, pretending to be offended. “I’m getting better!” I love how Abby and Jagger are taking the lead on this, making the two younger boys remind things about Dorothy.

We talk about her for a full hour, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, but always remembering what Dorothy was like. Dorothy’s breaths are becoming more shallow and rattling, until finally, after an hour and a half, the machine at the side of her bed makes it obvious even to those of us who aren’t doctors like me that Dorothy’s heart is no longer beathing. Her lungs push out the last of the breath in her body, sound like she’s sighing deeply, and then she’s gone.

“Is she…?” Yoah asks, still not shedding a single tear. Him and Jagger are both completely numb by now, not talking anymore.

“Yes,” I say softly, getting up with Davy in my arms. “She’s gone.”

Jagger shoves Yoah from his lap and gets up, kicking the chair over. “Fuck this. I’m going out.”

“Jagger!” Abby calls after him. She runs out after him, and I can hear yelling, followed by doors slamming. If he won’t listen to Abby right now, there is no way he will talk to me, so I just take care of the other two boys. I carry Davy to the master bedroom room and tuck him in bed, where he cries into the pillow softly, curling up into a ball. Yoah follows right behind us, crawling in with Davy and wrapping round his small body protectively. I kiss them both and then I get back to Dorothy’s room, making a few phone calls while I take out her IV and shut off the heart monitor.

I’m used to seeing people die, but this is completely different from having a kid die in my OR. The people from the funeral home will be here soon, but I can’t bear to stay in Dorothy’s room until them, so I shut the door behind me and lean against the wall for a moment, needing a few minutes to pull myself back together. I can’t fall apart right now. The boys need me.

Abby soft body wraps around me, her lips brushing over mine. She tastes salty from her tears, and her body shakes from her sobs, but her touch still comforts more than anything else ever has. I bury my face in her hair while she rubs my back, and finally, I start crying. I make sure to do it silently so I won’t alarm the boys, but I can’t keep it together anymore.

“It’s okay,” Abby breathes, kissing my neck over and over, her fingers digging into my back. “Just let it out, Chris. It’s okay for the boys to see you like this. They need to know you’re hurting too. That it’s not just them.”

“I c-can’t,” I whimper, not sure how to get myself in check again.

“Yes, you can,” she insists. Abby is no longer crying when she pulls away from me, her hands on my shoulders. She’s compartmentalizing the way I always do when I’m having a brutal day at the hospital, and I can tell she’s shoving her grief into a box in the back of her mind as she looks at me, deciding to be the strong one. “Go lie down with Davy and Yoah for a moment, let them see you like this, let them cry with you. I will take care of everything else.”

“Abby, you can’t-”

“Yes, I can,” she says forcefully. “We take turns, Chris. It’s my turn right now. I’m fine.” She gives me a small smile to prove it. “Go be with your kids. I’ll make some dinner soon, okay? We all need to eat something, no matter how unimportant that may seem right now.”

I let her lead me to our bedroom. Yoah looks up at me when we come in, but Davy keeps sobbing without even feeling me slip into bed with them. I pull Davy onto my lap and hold out an arm for Yoah, but he shakes his head and curls up on himself instead, still not crying. I am, and I don’t seem to be able to stop anytime soon. I hope Abby is right that it’s okay for the boys to see me like this, because I don’t know how to shut it down right now. It’s a good thing Abby is here, because I may have been in complete control up until now, but I can’t do it anymore. I’m spent. I feel like I could sleep for days on end.

Abby presses a kiss to the top of my head before walking out, and I hear her making phone calls as she paces the hallway, until she goes downstairs when the doorbell rings. I can hear what is going on, hear the voice of the people from the funeral home, and I know I have a conversation with them at one point, since I’m the doctor who shut off her heart monitor and took out her IV, but I don’t even remember anything I told them. At one point I get up and take the boys downstairs, make them eat the dinner Abby prepared, but I don’t taste my own food.

“It’s okay,” Abby keeps whispering to me, pulling her fingers through my hair again and again, making me feel grounded. “You’re doing great, baby.”

Honestly, I’m not even doing remotely okay, but there’s nothing I can do about that right now. All I can do is just be, and thank God for giving me Abby to take care of all of us.

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