Authors: Megan Nugen Isbell
She stood a few feet from the bed, paralyzed with fear. She stared at his lifeless body and the labored risings of his chest as the machine forced his lungs with air. This couldn’t be happening. Just last night he’d proposed to her. They were going to spend their lives together. Any second now she would wake up from this horrible nightmare and call Ben and tell him everything she had meant to say but never had and to apologize for all the lost moments that could have been. She thought it strange how you can spend so much time with someone and think you’ve said everything you needed to, but when there is no more time left there are still a million things to say. The agony ripped through her like a knife as she realized that those opportunities were lost forever and she had realized it too late.
She cautiously took the few steps to his bedside and sat down on the chair beside him. She took his hand once again, praying this time he would hold it back, but he didn’t. His fingers lay still and limp, cradled in her palm. She slowly lifted his hand to her lips and tenderly kissed it, surprised at the saltiness of it. She then realized it wasn’t Ben’s hand, but the tears that were streaming from her eyes gathering in the crevices of his hand that was creating the taste on her lips. She opened his hand and placed his warm palm on her wet cheek and closed her eyes thinking back to the times he had cradled her face in his hands, just before he kissed her. She moved his hand up and down, imagining it was him stroking her cheek, and for a moment she fooled herself, but then the mechanical sounds and sterile smells of the hospital invaded her senses and she knew where she was again. She stared up at him who still looked like he was simply sleeping and would wake up any moment. She timidly reached over to him and began running her hands through his thick, soft hair, watching each blade bend and fall like a wheat
field blowing in a gentle breeze. She traced every line of his face trying to burn the feeling of his skin into her fingers so she would always remember what he felt like.
“Ben,” she whispered to him, still grasping his hand. “Ben, please wake up. You can’t leave me. I need you. You said you’d never leave. You said you’d never let me down. Please don’t go.”
She waited for his response, which she knew would never come, and without thinking, she crawled onto the hospital bed, carefully wedging herself between Ben and the railing. She had to be close to him one last time. After lifting his limp arm and placing it over her shoulder, she snuggled as closely as she could next to him, draping her hand across his chest just like she did when they were cuddling in bed. She rested her head on his chest and listened to the comforting pattern of his heartbeat, which seemed to be telling her he was with her, that he knew she was there and that he loved her. She felt a warmth consume her, the warmth of Ben’s love, and then she began talking to him for the last time.
“I love you Ben,” she said quietly through the painful lump in her throat. “I have always loved you and I will love you forever. Thank you for loving me every
day we’ve been together. Thank you for making me a better person and for showing me what love truly is. If I’d known last night would be our last time together, I wouldn’t have let you go. I would’ve asked you to stay and hold me. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you to stay. I’m sorry you were alone when this happened.” Her breath began to quicken and her voice was barely audible through the tears and the lump in her throat. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to hold you and tell you I love you. I’m sorry for always over thinking everything. I’m sorry I never got to be your wife and you never got to be my husband. I’m sorry we’ll never know our children.” The sobs were uncontrollable now and she clung to him fiercely, telling herself she would never let go. He couldn’t be leaving her; he couldn’t not be here in the morning. Her body began to shake violently as she clung to him, willing him to stay.
“You can’t leave! I need you,” she wailed and then felt a gentle touch on her shoulder. Startled, she looked up to see Grandma Val.
“Shh honey,” she said comfortingly. “He loves you too. You know that. Never forget that. Be strong for him,” she said as tears began to fall from her eyes.
The words resonated in Kathryn’s ears.
Be strong for him
. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply through her nose and out of her mouth and a few minutes later had regained control of herself.
“I love you Ben. I will love you for as long as I live,” and with that, Kathryn reached up and tenderly kissed his cheek, allowing her lips to linger, thinking back to last night and the promises they’d made to each other, before moving her lips to the corner of his mouth. The ventilator was blocking her ability to kiss him like she wanted to, but as her soft, moist lips met the corner of his dry, cold ones, she felt a greater love between them than she ever had. She knew he loved her and he would always be there for her, looking
out for her, watching over her. What had he said last night? That he promised to love her every day for the rest of his life and even after that. She never expected him to have to fulfill that promise so soon.
“I love you,” she whispered once more into his ear, before releasing herself from him and climbing out of the bed.
“Come on dear,” Val said placing her arm around Kathryn, trying to lead her out of the hospital room.
As she turned her back on him, her heart felt as if it were shattering into a million pieces, and she turned around once more to see the lifeless body of the only man she’d ever loved, the man she was supposed to spend the rest of her life with, lying alone and helpless.
“I can’t leave him,” Kathryn cried out, turning to run back to him, but was stopped by a gentle tug from Val.
ady gone,” she told her, but Kathryn yanked her arm away and ran over to Ben anyway, grabbing his hand, kissing it over and over, needing to feel his touch just one last time. She felt the warmth she had sensed earlier again wrap around her and she gently laid his hand back down to his side, patting the top of it softly before turning back and walking out of the room where Ben’s family was gathered.
They all seemed to look at her with pity, knowing she was losing the love of her life, but then her eyes found those of Ben’s mother and the emptiness Kathryn saw in them was unlike anything she’d ever witnessed. Sharon came over and wrapped Kathryn in her arms before she and Scott along with Allie and Luke went in to say their goodbyes.
Kathryn sat down across the hall away from Val and Dom, keeping to herself, not wanting to talk to anyone. The hall seemed unnaturally quiet for a hospital, which only allowed her the ability to focus more on her thoughts and pain, something she didn’t want to do. She stared at the ring on her finger, twisting it around and around as she waited.
She wasn’t sure how long the Bradley’s were in with Ben, but after a while she saw three serious looking doctors and two orderlies enter the room and a few minutes later, a primal scream shot out of the room. Sharon’s scream was gut-wrenching, and could only come from the greatest loss anyone could ever know…the mother’s loss of her child. The wailing continued and then Sharon was being escorted out of Ben’s room by Scott and Luke. It looked as if she couldn’t hold herself up and was only able to do so with their support while Ben lay dying only a few feet away. Sharon was taken into a room a few doors down, followed by Val and Dom, and soon it was quiet.
Kathryn looked up and down the hallway, painfully aware that she was alone. Not even doctors or nurses were roaming the halls. And then she heard some noise that sounded like the creaking of wheels and the collapsing of metal coming from Ben’s room. As she stared towards the room, she saw the foot of Ben’s bed begin to stick out of the doorway. She soon saw the entire gurney and the white sheet that molded to Ben’s body, followed by the orderlies and doctors. They made a turn in the opposite direction from Kathryn and she watched in disbelief as Ben was wheeled away from her, from his family, and from life.
She leapt to her feet; her eyes blurred with tears and ran as fast as she could down the hallway, bursting through the doors into the waiting room. She stood breathlessly, staring around the room for someone, something to hold on to. Her heart soared as she saw the faces of her mother and father standing with Lacey near the scratchy mauve chairs she’d been sitting in only an hour ago, clinging to the hope that everything would be alright.
Kathryn ran across the room and into the waiting arms of her parents, who wrapped her into the safety and comfort of their embrace as every ounce of pain spilled from her.
“Lacey called us
,” her mother said as she held her daughter. “How’s Ben?” she asked, although, by her daughter’s actions, she knew.
, Mom. He’s gone!” she sobbed, finally acknowledging the truth.
Her mother gasped sharply, her chest beginning to heave from the shock. Her father stood stoically, needing
to be strong for his daughter and Lacey began to cry, pulling away from the huddled group. Her mother grasped her tighter, joining Kathryn’s sobs, while her father walked away towards Ben’s family.
“He’s gone Mom. Ben’s dead!” Kathryn continued to cry into her mother’s arms. “He’s dead…he’s dead…”
Her mother kept holding her, not knowing what to say or do. Her father returned a few moments later, gently pulling her from her mother’s grasp.
“Let’s go home Kate,” her father said, wrapping his arm around her shoulders as he began to lead her to the exit doors.
“No…no…I can’t leave him!” Kathryn protested, stopping in her tracks.
“You need to
, Kate. You need to,” her father said quietly, inching her to the door. She didn’t want to leave him, she couldn’t leave him and as her parents guided her outside, each footstep felt as if it weighed a hundred pounds, taking every ounce of her effort to take those steps away from the hospital and away from Ben.
The sun had risen since she’d arrived and as her tears cleared, she stood numbly, looking around at the morning that seemed so normal. Birds were singing and the sun was shining. Cars were whizzing by on the highway, taking people to work and their daily lives. Nothing about the world seemed to indicate what was missing…that Ben was missing. Everything was just continuing on as it always had. But life would never be the same for Kathryn. That had all changed at 4:23 that morning.
Kathryn’s father eased the car to a slow stop inside the drab garage. Her mother was still stroking her head, which had been resting on her lap the entire ride home in the backseat. She couldn’t bring herself to sit up once the car had stopped.
, honey,” her mother whispered, gently raising her daughter’s head until she was sitting upright. Her father appeared, opening the door and taking Kathryn’s hand, guiding her out of the car. She walked weakly to the garage door that led into the laundry room. She turned the handle and stepped inside, the smell of Tide and fabric softener hitting her.
Once in the kitchen, she looked around the house…the house she had spent so much time in with Ben. Her eyes found the corner breakfast nook where they’d played hours of Risk and Rummy in high school before her gaze drifted over to the couch they’d snuggled and made-out on once her parents had gone to bed. She remembered those nights in the darkened room, with only the glow of the quiet television for light. It was there Ben had first kissed her and first held her. It was there she had realized how in love she was with him and looking at it now, she realized she would never share any of those things with him again. Her chest began to swell with a pain that caused her knees to buckle
again, forcing her to lean against the kitchen counter for support. She felt her dad’s arms around her, picking her up again so she stood straight once more. Her mother was there a second later, linking her arm around Kathryn’s waist.
“Can I get you something to eat?” her mom asked.
Kathryn just shook her head, unable to speak. The thought of food made her stomach turn. There was only one thing she wanted right now and she knew he wasn’t coming.
“Let’s get you upstairs,” her mother said, leading her to the staircase.
Kathryn grasped the railing with her right hand, and held onto her mother’s arm with her left. Just as it had been walking out of the hospital, her feet felt likes blocks of cement and she was exhausted once she reached the top of the stairs and approached the doorway to her room.
When she stepped inside, she felt as if she’d been transported back in time. Her parents had hardly changed the room in the year and a half she’d been away at college. The same white quilt with pink and lavender flowers covered her bed and her vanity was still lined with the senior pictures of her friends. As she looked at the mirror across the room, her vision locked immediately on one photograph in particular: she and Ben on graduation night. They were both
draped in red graduation gowns and they were holding their diplomas, while their free hands were wrapped around each other. Their smiling faces had been filled with hope and endless possibilities. Never in a million years would she have guessed that Ben would be gone a year and half later. Her chest once again filled with pain and she found herself struggling to breathe again.
“Mom…” Kathryn wheezed and lunged into her mother’s arms, the tears beginning to flow.
She held her as Kathryn shook uncontrollably, not knowing what to do to help her daughter. Kathryn’s father appeared in the room a moment later and carefully pried her from her mother’s grasp, gently picking her up and carrying her over to the bed. He pulled back the covers and laid her down on the soft mattress. Her mother sat at the end of the bed and removed her shoes before folding the blanket over her.