The room was quiet and still, and I would have thought myself deaf if it hadn’t been for the buzzing and whirring of the machines keeping my aunt alive. I hadn’t even known rooms could be so dark until that night, and the only window in the room let in the deeper darkness of the night. The silence itself was remarkable, achieved by a room crowded with bodies. Heat radiated from the bodies and made the room stuffy and suffocating. Everyone in the room was waiting for death. My aunt was lying on the bed that was more hardware than cushion, and many people who loved her were standing and sitting in various parts of the room. The room was definitely too small to hold all of the love… or the sadness.
ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is a degenerative nerve disease that slowly and viciously kills its victims. My mother’s side of the family carries the ALS gene, and Auntie Chi Chi had developed the disease. My mother had taken care of her for as long as we could at our house, but in the final weeks of her life, we knew she would have to stay in a nursing home. I watched as my aunt, the energetic sales rep glued to her cell phone, became a wisp of a human body that could barely say anything. I had seen her spirit leave her eyes. She was not ready to die; she was too young and loved life too much. Everyone in the darkness that night realized the same thing: the end was near.
While privately mourning, I remembered my first-hand experience with my aunt and her lack of basic motor skills. My mother and father were busy preparing a medication in the kitchen, which was serving as a pharmacy. My task was to feed my aunt ice cream. This was the same ice cream the rest of the family ate, no special medications or supplements, just a creamy vanilla. I put the ice cream in a bowl, a bowl that we had all used for years. I grabbed a spoon, not a special feeding tool for the sick, a spoon that I had used countless times before. I sat in front of her, perhaps the only ill relative of mine who hadn’t been ready to die when it was time. Taking a spoonful of ice cream, I guided it towards her mouth. This was a mouth that could barely speak anything besides what must be described as a moan, let alone eat with much success. She opened her mouth and I inserted the spoon. I saw her molasses-like lips close around the spoon and I gently pulled back, as if I were feeding a baby. She had taken just a little off of the top. We went on like this, and we couldn’t even get halfway through the dessert before the ice cream had melted.
I knew no young child in my parents’ eyes would be charged with the duty of feeding the sick. My playroom had been long gone as well; my old toys were moved out and replaced with a bed and various medical accessories to keep first my grandmother (a victim of cigarettes) and then my aunt alive. I realized I was becoming a young adult. I was a twelve year old growing up alongside the diseases and sicknesses that had taken two family members in quick succession.
I struggled to keep the ice cream off of her face realizing what my aunt had to go through. She couldn’t even have ice cream without getting it dribbled down her chin. Ice cream, a universal symbol of happiness and glee, was an arduous task for her to consume. I thought of the kind of happiness it must have brought her when she was my age and younger; images of little kids running around playfully after the ice cream truck ran through my mind. I thought of the joy ice cream had brought me in previous years. I thought of Maya, Chi Chi’s daughter, who so enjoyed ice cream. My God, her daughter: How would she survive the years after her mother’s death? How would she deal with a motherless house? What was being imprinted in her brain at this moment, watching her mother slowly die? What would be left in my mind after this was all over? Would it ever really be over? These thoughts made me sick as I stared at the melted ice cream, and when we were done, I pushed the bowl away as if I could distance myself from these feelings.
That night in the nursing home, amongst the silent darkness, I came to my epiphany. My aunt would die soon, but it was okay. She was going to enjoy the heaven that she believed in much more than this life. Her long-term suffering, pain, and embarrassment (terrible for her Japanese pride) would finally come to an end. She would fly higher than the superficial world of today, escape the chains of her diseased body, escape the nursing home she despised so much, say farewell to the crowd of loved ones in her room, fly past my inescapable feelings and be reunited with wherever the spirit of her parents went. I knew Maya would soon come to the same realization, and the love in the room would guide her to this eventually. Chi Chi would die with those she loved on Earth all around her, and she wouldn’t have asked for more.
William Blomerth is a high school junior and Eagle Scout interested in English and the human mind. When not in school or on the track, he enjoys writing, playing music, and camping.