I accustomed myself to accepting death at a very young age. Death happens. A person is born, she lives, and she dies. At its simplest form, a leaf sprouts, soaks in the sun, ripens with color, and crumbles between the fingers in the fall. In the spring, the cycle will start up again.
I think my quickness to accept death has to do with my early years, when I had had to learn about the civil war in my home country that annihilated a large chunk of our population, my biological parents included. I can’t remember ever crying for them, though, probably because I didn’t know them or the pain they suffered. For different reasons, I didn’t cry much when the father who raised me died. He had been sick with terminal cancer, and his doctors had informed us of what to expect. Also, before his diagnosis and prognosis, I had heard about such abnormal masses that plagued so many lives. My father’s was not the only one. However, I did cry when my biological grandmother died of old age, but not profusely. I was not distraught over her death. She had been a kind and gentle woman, and she had reasons to be proud: her adult children (sans my mother) were all successful. She had lived a full life of courage, heartache, and devotion, and it was simply her time. No one lives forever. I cried the most when our dog, Pluto, died.
Pluto was our 85-pound mutt of Labrador Retriever, German Shepard, and bloodhound. His medium-length coat was reddish brown, and his paws were the size of a tiger’s. He was ill-mannered and not very intelligent. His eyebrows crinkled when he was too lazy to stand up from his bed to greet us, and his long tail whacked the coffee table — sending the glasses to rattle — when he anticipated a treat. He barked and growled at the mailmen but would cower into my legs whenever he was frightened. Pluto had survived his first spinal cord injury with surgery. But, two years later, when he suffered a relapse, the surgeon suggested to Danith and me to forego another surgery due to his old age and to, instead, put him down. I cried because Pluto was our “baby.” My heart had melted whenever he cocked his head in an attempt to understand us humans speaking to him. I missed letting him jump into bed with me when Danith had to travel for work. I missed watching his eyes roll in ecstasy when I rubbed his head or belly. I had liked the weight of his haunches sitting on my feet, which he did when he sought comfort. He had been a ferocious guard. On one camping trip, he stayed awake all night to protect our perimeter. But he had also depended on me to feed him and keep him safe. He had known who I was. I missed taking care of Pluto. Even though we had made the best decision to let him go, I was sad and distraught by his departure, so much so that I couldn’t leave the house for three days.
I thought I finally understood death the way many people understood it.
But I still had so much to learn. On the day I was to deliver Daffy, we were assigned two nurses who checked on us regularly. Jessie and Sally quietly closed the door behind them each time they entered and exited our room, they tip-toed across the floor, and they spoke softly to Danith and me. They rubbed my socked feet and once in a while gave them a squeeze. They brought me hot water bottles for my lower back. They checked my IV sites for irritation. They even encouraged Danith to go and eat, because he would need his energy later. Jessie was peppy, and she bubbly told us how she luckily landed her job. She was a tall and pretty young woman, and I enjoyed listening to her stories. I was lying in a hospital bed with an IV and a catheter, and I knew that soon Daffy would leave my belly, but it was also a normal day, one that we were in the midst of and one that would pass along. I can do this, I remember thinking. Jessie coveted my purse and asked where she could purchase one. Sally spoke about her son who enjoyed chemistry in the high school, and Danith offered to show him around his lab. Later, when my OB visited me, I asked him if I could eat a Snickers with almond bar because I was hungry and craved something sweet. When he said that I couldn’t, I asked if I could at least drink Sprite because the ice chips were not cutting it. Danith and our two nurses laughed, and I think that I did, too.
Daffy slipped into our world at 6:53 PM. Our OB respectfully lifted her tender form from the bed and handed her to Jessie and Sally, who quickly weighed her and cleaned her. From where I lay, I could hear Sally sniffling at the changing table, where she was wrapping Daffy in blankets. Gingerly she carried my daughter to me as Jessie, my OB, and Danith watched. In my hands was my baby, a new leaf. We all spoke in hush tones as we paid tribute to my daughter’s still body and witnessed her simple and quiet beauty. Later, my OB sat beside me on the bed, and as we admired Daffy together, he said that I had done a good job of growing her.
At about 11:00 PM, I lay alone with Daffy. I spoke to her, profession of love and promises I would keep. With the pad of my forefinger, I touched her skin, which felt cool like an early morning. I smelled her and immediately recalled lemon and the rich soil in which our Knockout roses and hydrangeas grew. I licked her face that tasted like salty tears. As I marveled at her being, it hit me: tomorrow I would leave the hospital without her. After tomorrow morning, I would never carry the weight of her in my hands again. Today was ending, and there was no cycle to renew. The feel of her, the smell of her, and the taste of her would remain only as a memory. My daughter has died, and she would not come back. Never, ever would she return. That realization snuffed my breath. Death, I finally comprehended, is final.
Death is like a ruler with an iron fist. Death doesn’t allow for a U-turn. It doesn’t allow for the delete button or the back space. Not even white-out. It won’t hear of any cries of pleas; it turns its eyes away from bent knees. It has no empathy. It has no time for reason. There is no forgiveness, no mercy. What else in life is as ruthless?
Danith and I speak about the day when we would see Daffy and Kiri, and Pluto, again. He imagines them waiting for us. Sometimes he describes a green field on which they are playing and waiting. I allow myself to imagine this, too. But that is all it is: an imagination. In this world, death ends all lives. What guarantee do we have that we would be reunited with our children someday? Some of us believe that this life now is only in passing, that our eternal life is after this one. The rest of us believe that we would be born again and could be fortunate enough to meet up with our family and friends. I will believe in anything that will take me to my daughter and son. But what if believing is done all in vain? What if my life with Daffy and Kiri ends here? I find such a possibility to be cruel.