He knows. No breath. No movement.
He’d lifted her from her chair to the floor when he’d found her, placing the blanket beside her that had covered her as she’d slept. When he’d set her down, he’d heard the huff of her final exhale leave her body.
He feels himself slip away from this world and enter a place he’s never been before. He sways as he looks down on her. Her head is turned to one side. Her thinning brown hair is pressed against the side of her still beautiful face. Dressed in one of his t-shirts, her legs are bent in the same position they were when she’d fallen asleep the evening before.
Maybe she’s just- and he pushes his hands against her shoulder.
He runs his rough fingers through his graying hair and looks about the darkened room. Everyone’s coming, he says out loud. But no one can hear him.
His daughters – their daughters – come through the front door and enter the room. Cold air follows them and sunlight spills in, but disappears quickly when the door closes. There is wailing and shuddering, and they take turns huddling over her. They speak to her in shrill cries. I love you, Mommy, they say.
But she does not reply.
One daughter shakily pulls out lip balm. She trembles as she smears the lotion across her mother’s lips.
A car arrives outside and he tells his daughter’s it’s time. They stumble about the room silently, wiping the tears from their chins.
The strangers are ready to take her, so he moves away from his wife.
Wait – he whispers to them. They step back respectfully.
He kneels down beside her again and covers her bare legs with the blanket. As he leans in close to her face, he is once again alone with her. He hears nothing except the beating of his own heart. Betty, he whispers, stroking the hair away from her peaceful face. She’s the fifteen year old girl he’d met when he was just seventeen…When she became a woman, he became a man…When she became a mother, he became a father…
When her illness seemed to steal everything from her – her ability to walk, to feed, to bathe herself – there was a constant between them: the truest love they’d each ever known.
And while he knew this moment would come, where she would leave this world, he is not ready to let her go. He feels a panic arise in his chest.
Betty, he whispers again, placing his hand on her cold cheek. He finds her left hand and lifts it close to him. He purses his lips, not wanting to do this, not ready to do this. He grips the small gold wedding band from her finger, twisting it slowly as it makes its way off and into his calloused hand. He places her hand gently at her side and stands up quickly.
It’s done, he thinks. He gives the strangers a nod, and they move in towards her.
His daughter’s, their heads down, make their way outside. Suddenly, as his girls disappear outside and out of his sight, he stops. He opens up his fist and looks thoughtfully at the ring in his palm. Slowly, he lifts it and slides it over his pinky finger.
Knowing he cannot turn back, he walks towards the cold air coming through the wide open door, and he heads out into the sunlight.