“I knew I could trust you to face facts.” Joel’s voice was raspy.
“I get the impression that you don’t want to be coddled. If I’m wrong, all you have to do is say so.” Finishing with the cloth, Emma flipped
the mirror down, taking the plastic bowl and cloth into the bathroom. Coming back, she brought his breakfast tray over and set it on the
wheeled table. “There’s some consommé on your tray this morning. It might help to warm your insides.” Without asking, she dipped
the spoon into the clear soup and brought some to his lips.
He sipped a little and lifted a hand slightly from the bed to let her know he’d had enough.
“Joel, you have to eat a little more. If you don’t, they’re going to put a feeding tube in.”
“No. I signed an order yesterday to refuse treatment.”
“You’re going to refuse…?” she started to ask through her shock.
“You can’t be surprised,” he managed to get out. “I don’t want this to drag on.” For the first time since he’d met her, he noticed tears
clouding Emma’s usual no-nonsense gaze.
“I should have known,” she said. “I guess I was deluding myself, wasn’t I? Sorry.” She kept her head down and busied herself for a
moment putting the cover back on the soup. “I’m not sure where you find the strength to handle this. Even without the support of your
family—you’re determined to face this head-on.”
“Won’t do much good to do otherwise.” He felt a slight clenching in his chest when she mentioned family. His parents still hadn’t come
to see him and Sadie’s visits had dwindled in direct relation to the decline of his health.
Emma glanced sharply at Joel. As though reading his mind, she said, “Do you want me to call your parents? Surely, if they knew how
close….” Her sentence stuttered to silence when he shook his head.
“You can’t force people to act in a way they aren’t capable of behaving. They can’t handle this. It’s easier for them to pretend that I’m
already gone.” Joel closed his eyes, hoping that Emma would accept that as a signal that the conversation was finished. She read his
cue, just as he expected she would.
“I have to pick up the rest of the trays. I’ll be back for a few minutes before I leave, okay?”
Joel nodded without opening his eyes. Letting his body drag him into the rest he needed, he didn’t notice when she returned to say
When he awoke the next morning, the sunlight peeking through the white metal blinds hurt his eyes. He’d dozed through the nurse’s
poking and prodding this morning and managed to drift off again when she was finished. It was a fitful sleep, though, and he was jarred
awake by the gentle tap on his door a short while later. Opening his bleary eyes, he saw his sister easing into his room. “Hi, Sadie,” he
“Joel…” Whatever she might have said was choked off by the tears that streamed down her cheeks as she quickly crossed the room
and came to his side.
“It’s okay.” He knew that no matter what he said, she wasn’t going to be okay with any of this.
This time, Sadie didn’t attempt to make excuses for their parents, instead, she sat quietly by his side.
When Emma stopped in a little later, Sadie turned to the volunteer. “Thanks for calling me.”
Joel opened his eyes in time to catch the fleeting expression of guilt on Emma’s face. “What do you mean?” he asked, glancing first at
his sister and then his friend.
“I called your house.” She glared at him, unrepentant. “I knew you weren’t going to tell them and they needed to know.”
“For God’s sake.” Joel shook his head. “You don’t get it. To them—I’m already dead.”
His sister gasped.
“It’s true, Sadie. It took me awhile to figure it out.” Joel coughed. “As long as I was at home, they had to ignore my illness and pretend
that everything was fine. When I moved here, it was easier for them to pretend that I was dead. The only thing they have to wait for is the
Surprising Joel, Sadie seemed to gather some strength from deep inside as she faced the truth of her brother’s words. “I’m sorry.”
He gave a half shrug. “We both know what they’re like, Sadie. Just don’t let them suck you into it.”
She nodded her head and then slowly stood up. “I have to go. Are…are you going to be okay?” She glanced at Emma before turning
back to Joel for reassurance.
“Hey, everything’s going to be fine, Sadie. I love you, kiddo.” He watched his sister back away from the bed before she finally turned to
disappear through the door. He closed his eyes momentarily then forced them open to look at his friend. “You had no right,” he choked
“I’m sorry,” Emma said, her own voice breaking. “You just seemed so alone.”
“This is the way I want it. They’re not coming to see me off. I’ve accepted it and I don’t need false hope. I thought you of all people
She dipped her head and when she raised her eyes, she reached up to rub away her tears with the back of her hand. Moving over to the
chair Joel’s sister had vacated, Emma reached out and took his hand. “Will you at least let me be here for you?”
“Trust me, you’ve been here for me since the first day you walked in with my breakfast tray.”
“Will you forgive me for calling your parents?”
“Forget it, Emma. It just wasn’t meant to be. I guess I can understand you wanting to try, though.”
“I’m glad Sadie came today.”
“Me, too. This is really hard for her, though—going against my parents to come and see me.”
“It shows that she’s as strong as you are. Her strength just hasn’t matured yet.”
“She’ll be all right.” Joel closed his eyes.
Emma took the hint, patting his hand lightly before she stood and left. “I’ll be back to see you later.”
He didn’t answer. He lay with his eyes closed but didn’t sleep. His mind was too full of the emotions his sister’s visit had given birth to.
He thought again of his parents, not sure where he found the strength to forgive them for their lack of caring and compassion.
Thank God for Emma, he thought. Even though her efforts with regard to his parents had been misguided, at least he could still count
on her to be his friend. He almost forgot sometimes that she was at the hospice as a volunteer. It just seemed right that she was with
him when the end was near.
He’d thought a lot lately about his own mortality and about whether or not there was a life after death. He believed there was. Someone
had sent Emma to him when he needed her and Joel had to believe that it was the same God who would be waiting for him when his
body gave it’s last breath.
It seemed only moments later when Emma returned but by turning his head slightly, Joel could see that it was already late evening.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I came to sit with you for awhile.”
The corners of his mouth lifted in a slight grin. “Anyone else would pretend they came back because they forgot something.”
“I would have if I thought you might believe me,” she grinned.
“I’m glad you didn’t pretend.” Joel looked closely at the young woman who had come to mean the world to him. “And I’m glad you’re
here. It won’t be long, you know.”
“I know. I talked to the doctor before I left this morning. I hope you don’t mind.”
Joel shook his head. “Thank you.”
He smiled peacefully at his friend. It wouldn’t be long now.
|Copyright 2008 Donna MacNaughton. All rights reserved. Site by Donna MacNaughton
By Donna MacNaughton