The Waiting Room


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                THE WAITING ROOM
                              by Anne K. Edwards

“I don’t understand,” Sonia wept softly into her father’s arms. “I don’t understand. Mom  was only forty-four. How can she be dead?  How?”

“Darlin’, your Momma lived a full life. She was happy, right to the end.” Thomas Dennis patted his daughter’s shoulder.

Behind them, leaning against the wall, Marty Conners watched. It was the same every time someone was lost to those who loved them. He’d seen tears enough to fill buckets shed as adults and children cried out their grief. 

He straightened and glided toward the door, knowing they’d never notice him.  He went along the hall, passing the nurses’ station with all their buttons, lights and charts. Reading off the room numbers, he stopped before room thirty-one. This was where Arlene Dennis had died.

Her body still occupied the bed, but the machines that had monitored her life were silent, standing like sentinels around her, waiting. He nodded. Yes, they waited as he waited. And he didn’t know why any more than they did.

“Who are you?” a soft voice spoke from the dimness to his left.

“I’m Marty Dennis. I just came to see if there was anything I could do.”

The speaker slipped into the light. “No,” she said, “There’s nothing to be done now. It’s over.”

“Why are you here?” Marty asked.

“I don’t really know.  I guess I’m waiting until someone comes for...” She pointed to the body in the bed.

“Was it painless at the end?” He looked at the body. The woman did look peaceful now, but when he’d visited before, she’d been ravaged with pain. Now, the deep creases in her face had smoothed and she looked young.

The woman from the shadows said, “Yes, there was no pain. The doctor made sure of that.” Her voice waivered. “Why couldn’t they have done that months ago? Why all that suffering? Why?”

Marty shook his head. “I don’t know.” He gestured to the door. “Do you want to wait outside?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

She followed him along the hall to the waiting room. At the door, she hesitated.

“Come in. They’ll never know we’re here.”

“Sonia is crying so hard. I never thought she cared that much.” She looked at the couple on the bench.

Marty gave a smile of encouragement.

The door opened and a tall, thin man joined the man and his daughter. “Mr. Dennis? I’m John Calvin, the hospital grief counselor.” He put out his hand.

Thomas Dennis stood and, keeping one hand on his daughter’s shoulder, shook hands with Mr. Calvin. “I’m not sure what you can do for us,” he said. “We knew it was coming. It was just a matter of days, then minutes.”

Sonia turned her teary face to them. “I don’t understand,” she said again. “That old woman who was in the room with her last week--you know who I mean, Daddy--the woman was almost eighty. She had a stroke, but she got better. Her family took her home yesterday. But Mom died today. Why?”

“An aneurism is dangerous at any time. And the surgery to fix one found in the brain is extremely risky.” Mr. Calvin looked at her, his face gentle, creased from long hours of trying to help grieving family and friends of the lost. “Your mother knew this.”

Mr. Dennis patted Sonia’s shoulder again.  “Your Momma knew the odds, Darlin’. She told me to tell you that. She said there was no choice. The doctor told us it could burst at any time.”

Sonia bowed her head. She said nothing more.  

Marty and the lady from the shadows listened quietly as the tragic scene played itself out. Tears glistened in her eyes too.

He pitied them all.  They could do nothing to ease the Dennis’ pain or the sorrow that he knew the counselor shared with them. And this lady, too, had to work through her pain.

There’d be others to follow the Dennises, others who’d sit and wait for news and when it came, they’d be shedding tears, waiting for the pain to pass.

The waiting room was aptly named, he thought. Especially on this floor that housed the cancer patients, those who’d suffered head trauma, or heart attack and weren’t expected to live. It was a floor where shadows walked, where death visited all too often.

He shook his head to empty such thoughts. How much longer would he be waiting here?

Soon, the Dennises rose and followed Mr. Calvin out. Sonia had stopped weeping and wiped her face. She glanced back as the lady from the shadows touched her arm. 

“Bless you, child,” the lady said.

She, too, had stopped crying. Her eyes were dry and a sad smile formed on her mouth. “Will they find peace?” she asked.

Marty smiled. “Yes, they’ll go on with their lives. One day the pain will lessen and they’ll remember with love.”

“I hope so. There’s so much left unsaid, so many things not completed.”

“That’s the way it must be sometimes,” he said.

“What happens now?” she asked.

“We wait,” he said.

“How long?”

Marty shook his head.  “I’m never sure. Sometimes it’s only minutes, other times, it seems like forever. We wait here in the waiting room.”