Leo was there. The passing of life is momentous and minuscule, at the same time.
A person is breathing, and then, that person is no longer breathing.
Sitting beside the hospital bed, murmuring quietly with other family members, suddenly one person asks:
Did you hear that?
No, says another.
The room fills with silence.
When was the last breath? Someone else says. Did you notice it?
It’s been a while, says the first. It’s been a while.
I’ll get the nurse, says the second person, who leaves the room briskly, efficiently, with an edge of urgency. It is not the urgency to save a life.
It is the urgency of confirming that life has passed.
The nurse enters with that same brisk efficiency, checks the machines, listens for a heartbeat, tests for a pulse.
There is no reason to speak quietly, but the nurse does.
“Gone.” And: “The doctor will be here shortly.” And closes the door, or the curtain, as he departs.
What is the protocol at this moment, everyone wonders, but dares not ask.
The next of kin, or closest friend, or lover, or spouse, weeps quietly. Or turns pale. Or shows no signs at all.
It’s the youngest one, the friend or son or daughter or niece, who breaks the paralysis.
Goodbye, the youngest one says, leaning over the now completely still body, providing a gentle kiss on the forehead, still warm, but cooling. Goodbye.
Leo was that youngest in the room. He was the one who said goodbye, offered that gentle kiss, and broke the paralysis of the others.
He wept, too, certainly. He wept openly, messily, without self-consciousness. He thought about how many more times he might be called upon to kiss the still warm, but cooling, foreheads of his loved ones. He wondered who would be the one to kiss his forehead when his time was up.
Leo hoped it would be someone he barely knew now. He could not bear the idea of someone he loved dearly weeping as he was weeping, after passing along the kiss of farewell.
He stepped out of the hospital room, and stumbled into the nurse who had just confirmed the passing of life.
“I know,” said the nurse, and wrapped Leo in a bear hug.