As Hannah’s granddaughter clutched at her skeletal fingers, the blanket fell to the side revealing the faded serial numbers on her forearm. The family gathered, yet again, to say goodbye. This time her acrid breath had lost humidity, her respirations dry and raspy, the extremities mottled with a bluish tinge.
Death had visited the neighborhood before. Lounged in the parlor. Nibbled on crackers and tea. But letting go was not so easy. Sure the signs were there. There were the bouts of unconsciousness lasting days. The hours of irregular breathing with long gaps. The clutching of chest and recitation of prayer. All of this followed by merciless, unrelenting recovery.
Hannah wanted to die. At least that is what she told the doctors. She sang it in her sleep and whispered to the hallucinations that pranced on her pillow. She refused medications. She spurned nourishment. She pulled at the tube thoughtlessly plunged into her abdomen a few hospitalizations prior. She hissed at the rabbi as he entered her room.
Why won’t you take me?
They said she was a survivor. A code they used in order to avoid talking about dark things. Guilty things. She was forever marked by the fact that she didn’t succumb. She didn’t die. She was scarred somewhere deeper, more profound, than the ugly thing on her forearm. She was marred by persistence.
Most of her family died decades ago during the war. A whole lineage erased. And yet she persisted. Her colon removed, her brain stroked, her heart fibrosed. And yet, she persisted. The years passed, friends and lovers gone, a child or two perished. And yet, she persisted.
Persistence had entwined her DNA, calcified her bones and cascaded past blood cells forever traveling in circles.
Her body was failing, but her spirit couldn’t let go.
No matter how much she begged and pleaded.
It didn’t know how.
Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion. Watch his talk at dotMED 2013, Caring 2.0: Social Media and the Rise Of The Empathic Physician. He is the author of Five Moments: Short Works of Fiction and I Am Your Doctor: and This Is My Humble Opinion.
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