It was in the gray consciousness between sleep and wakefulness that the monster attacked. It sat on John’s chest, the weight of it growing with each passing moment. He tried to fight it off, but something was restraining him, holding his arms at his side.
He struggled to breathe as the monster savagely ripped into his chest. He felt a scream rising in his throat as excruciating pain engulfed him. Before the scream escaped his lips, the monster disappeared taking the pain with it.
“Good morning, John!” The cheerful voice was entwined with the hum and beep of machines.
Moaning, John’s eyes opened, the light, though dim, causing him discomfort. Then he remembered, and with the remembrance, a heaviness greater than the monster swelled in his chest. He was in the hospital. He was dying, the ravages of lung cancer eating, spreading - teasing with brief periods of respite only to return with greater ferociousness.
He glanced at Jan, his nurse, as she performed the ritualistic morning duties. Her lips curled at the corners, the sorrow in her eyes negating her smile. John knew she has seen so much suffering, had lost so many patients.. He wondered how many in her care ever won the war against death - death the relentless adversary, stealing dignity as well as life.
At first, John was determined to fight, he would conquer the cancer. Now he was just tired - so very, very tired. He had no fight left, just a deep, prevailing sadness and an aching remorse that was worse than any cancer.
His eyes traveled to the wall clock.
“Are Amy and your children coming this morning?” Jan asked, gently raising his head, turning his pillow and smoothing it. John smiled his appreciation. Jan’s touch was gentle, her demeanor compassionate. She was easy to talk to, to pour out his heart.
“Amy, Jeremy and Lisa are coming at ten this morning.” The effort of talking exhausted him, and his eyes began to close. The medication that took away his pain also caused him to sleep. He embraced sleep like a trusted friend. He never heard Jan leave his room.
Besides the hospital chaplain, John’s only visitors were his ex-wife and children. He knew he didn’t deserve their kindness. He had made their home a battlefield. Amy had finally left him, and his children had not spoken to him in years. Death was bestowing the gift of reconciliation of sorts, or at least a small measure of peace.
It wasn’t John’s wealth, career, possessions, or achievements that he longed for now. He realized too late that none of those things could bring comfort to his dying soul like the love and support of family and friends. Unfortunately, John’s callousness, greed and ambition had driven everyone away.
The only light in his bleak days were Amy, Jeremy, and Lisa’s visits. He had always considered their gentleness and kindness a weakness. Now his sorrows and regrets tore at his waking moments. All the apologies in the world could not reverse the years of hurt and neglect he had caused them. They said they forgave him. He embraced their forgiveness, although he never understood the concept.
The chaplain’s prayers soothed him, although he had never given God a thought, had even doubted His existence. Now he grasped at any ray of solace.
Jan stopped in after his family had left. “How did it go?” she asked.
“It’s awkward and uncomfortable for them. I wasn’t a good husband or father.” His chin trembled. “I want to live so that I can make it up to them.” His eyes pleaded with Jan to grant him something that wasn’t within her power to give.
She stayed until sleep overtook him. He dreamed of happier times when his children were little, when he and Amy were in love, before the fighting and hate and bitterness took over. The dream made the awakening all the more unbearable.
Within days, his battle ended. His face reflected a peace he had not known in life. Amy, Jeremy and Lisa arrived, sadness etched on their faces.
“Your father talked about you all the time,” Jan said to the two anguished young adults, hoping to impart some of the remorse John had felt. “I’m so sorry. I know he loved you.” Her small offering could not fully recompense their years of hurt.
John’s remorse, his desire to change came too late. It could neither reverse the sands of time nor stay death’s hand.
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