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What do you say to someone who is in hospital and unresponsive?

What do you say to someone who is in hospital and unresponsive? This was the conversation I had today with B whose dad is in hospital.

What to say? What not to say? What if the person can hear what you are saying? If you say goodbye, will they think that you are giving up on them too soon?

Today is also Anne’s 2nd anniversary. Another painful event surrounded by a cloud of WTFs and “how the heck did we end up here?”s.

July 2019. Both boys were on a week long Scout camp and Paul and I were going to Lille for a few days when we heard that Anne wasn’t well. I remember the call with Mark. I remember having this sudden urge to visit Anne in hospital before Paul and I set off for Lille. I remember lying my way through security and the nurses' station at the hospital saying I had come all the way from Australia (the first country that came to my head as I was thinking on my feet) to see my friend and they had to let me in. They wouldn’t as it wasn’t visiting time. I begged and pleaded saying I had a flight to catch that evening and I had to see my friend. They eventually relented saying I only had a few minutes.

I saw Anne who was sleeping peacefully. I recall a nurse asking me how I was related to Anne and I said that she’s a dear friend (or did I say she’s my sister-in-law? honestly can’t remember). I will never forget the look on the nurse’s face – a look of sadness and pity; sort of saying ‘oh poor you’. I registered that moment almost knowing deep down that this is my last goodbye, but also refusing to believe that it could be my last goodbye because it was only a few days ago we were having a family BBQ at theirs watching England v New Zealand Cricket World Cup Final.

I sat next to Anne initially not knowing what to say. I held her hand and tried calling to her to get her attention. I wanted her to respond even if in the slightest possible way. I touched her face, stroked her hair and made a mental note to ask Mark to bring some moisturiser. I promised her that I will look after Ned. I also said that I will see her when we got back from Lille. Basically, I was covering all bases. In case, this WAS the last goodbye, I wanted Anne to know that I will keep an eye on Ned. But, at the same time, if she was able to hear me, I didn’t want her to think that I was thinking negatively. So, I said to her that I will see her in a few days. That’s all I could say.

25th July. Paul and I were out one sunny afternoon chilling in a café/bar when Anna Stevenson rang in tears saying Anne was gone. I cried and cried till I could cry no more. I cried for Ned. For my son’s best friend. The only comfort I could find within myself was that I was able to say goodbye to Anne and that I promised her that I will keep an eye on the 3 men in her life, Alan her dad, Mark her husband and Ned.

Fast forward end of November 2019. Paul is in ICU having deteriorated over the previous 2-3 weeks. He had lost all bodily functions rapidly and had tubes from everywhere imaginable. The doctors did a real crappy job making me come to the conclusion myself that this is the end of the road for Paul. There was none of the compassionate conversations in a room you see in television dramas. It was a conversation as I was standing outside the ICU room. I had no one with me. No one to support me as the reality started to dawn on me. And then the passing shot from a junior doctor was ‘you never know for sure. Miracles do happen’.

The next 5 days were hell. I had to be strong for the boys and I couldn’t tell the boys that this was the end. I didn’t want to lose hope and I didn’t want them to lose hope. Paul was still breathing. The CAR-T treatment which brought Paul to this stage is called the Lazarus treatment – so there was still a chance that he could come out of it all. But I had to hedge my bets. I remember telling him that I loved him over and over again. I told him that I will look after the boys and that they will be my sole focus to live. I thanked him for 23 years of togetherness and 20+ years of amazing married life. I thanked him for bringing the best out of me. I also told him to fight for us; fight whatever is trying to take him away from us. I told him he’s never been a quitter and that he should fight. I begged him to fight. I begged him to stay. I also told him to go if it is too painful and that he can go happy. I asked him to come and visit us so that he can see how we are doing. I asked him to give me signs that he’s around us.

I asked the boys to talk to Paul. I gave each boy his privacy with his dad.

With the boys beside Paul, I promised Paul I will look after them. I told the boys that their dad is proud of them. I told them to remember in future that Paul and I had the most amazing marriage by a mile. I told them I will do my best to be a good parent – just like their dad.

Bottom line is, there is no right or wrong answer; there is no way to tell. I am grateful at least I had a chance to say goodbye to Anne; I am grateful that the boys and I had a chance to say goodbye to Paul.

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