The old saying “You could cut the air with a knife” popped into my mind as soon as I entered the room. The tension was physical and I was sure I was in the wrong time and place. Unfortunately, the real thing wrong was that Dad was dying. Hopefully we were in the right place to play the cards the devil had dealt us.
The nurse called this the waiting room. This is where families came to wait while loved ones underwent emergency surgeries in a last ditch attempt to spend more time on planet Earth.
It was a narrow, poorly lit room with vinyl orange chairs, a lumpy couch and a few tables scattered with the obligatory magazines that were supposed to keep us from thinking about what was happening only a few doors down the hall.
There was an older style beige phone on the wall and it stuck out like the largest piece of furniture in the room — I imagined a flashing beacon light around it. An attendant manned the phone and we understood that if it rang it was time for news, good or bad.
There were only a few people in the room along with myself, my mother and brother and one sister (we have another sister although she was too busy cultivating a love affair to be with us — but that’s another story). There was an older woman with her son as well as a younger woman with two children about 10 and 12 years old.
We gave each other cursory nods and weak, watered down smiles as we settled into chairs. Not a word was spoken among any of us and I let my mind wander, trying to conjure up flashbacks of memories of my father as I was growing up. Mom kept fiddling in her purse and I suppose she was trying to keep herself occupied – the eternal optimist, never crying and never giving into sadness or grief.
The phone rang. Like puppets on strings, we straightened in our chairs and stared at the attendant, wondering for whom the bell tolled. She listened for a few minutes, nodded and hung up the phone. She walked over to the young woman with the children and spoke quietly to her, indicating she wanted her to come to the end of the room. We watched, trying not to be rude, but within moments we were all grieving and had become one family as the young mother crumpled to her knees and the children clung to her, crying and begging to see their dad. Her husband had died and the children had lost their father.
We knew we would be waiting for at least another six hours as people came and went and patients lived and died. The room had become our prison, the phone our hotline to heaven or hell, depending on how you had lived your life. Those of us in the waiting room, we were already in purgatory.
“Waiting Room” Mufffet @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
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