The knock on the door startled him, piercing a hole in the still of the night. “I’m sorry”, words that pushed the knives lodged in his heart to a deeper level. The world that surrounded him sat motionless, sterile and unexpected. It felt strange to think that she no longer existed. Gone. Void. Deleted. So quickly and so easily. It was a sharp jab to remind him of his own vulnerability and limited time.
He had known her for what seemed like only a brief moment, yet he had loved her more than he had ever loved before. Age had not wearied his ability to love. It had instead offered strength and value to what he had to give and receive.
At the age of 80 it was not about romance and lust but about the appreciation for the small things they shared. The moments were what mattered, not the hours or years. There was value in each breath they took together, not knowing if it may be their last. At his age the inevitable lingers, sitting on his shoulder, tapping him ever so slightly from time to time.
She was beautiful in her old age, as he was handsome. There was no need for photos of her past beauty. The beauty of her youth had not left her. Instead it radiated from the lines on her face, revealing stories of years of laughter, love and heartache. The fact that she was in a wheelchair had never devalued her in his eyes. Instead it provided a platform for her personality to shine, taking a place in his heart where the value of her earlier years may have been judged by her use to him. She did not need to care for him as the young care for one another. Just being there each day was sufficient.
They had spent their usual evening together, sipping their night cap, before he wheeled her to her apartment, receiving a brief kiss on the cheek in appreciation. He had left her with a smile on his face, the thought of how lucky he was to have been given the opportunity to hold her hand dancing in his mind.
Pneumonia is what they said took her. The week prior she had complained of the sniffles, but both saw it as nothing serious. It was hay fever season after all. She had woken during the night finding it difficult to breathe, pushing her call button to summons help. Why had she not rung him? She knew he would be there for her. Did she know it was her time, wishing to slip away quietly holding onto the memories of his smiling face from the night before? The last goodbye lingered in his heart.
Death surrounded him. It was rare a day went by that death did not knock on the door of a resident’s home, unexpected and unwanted. Being surrounded by death was not something he had considered when he had purchased his little unit within the residential aged care facility. His time to downsize and retire had come. His past divorce had led to many years of loneliness, but regret was something he refused to carry. Retirement was his time to enjoy the wonders of old age.
In the beginning he actively enjoyed the activities on offer, but then he met her. She was his activity. To sit and gaze into her beautiful eyes was all he needed each day. To wake, enter the dining room and sit beside her for breakfast was all the life he needed. In the beginning they would wheel her into the room where he would be waiting. It was not long before he would enter her home right on 8am and escort her to their favourite table.
The table sat empty now just as his heart was. There were others in the room, but their smile was not hers. Their voices a mumble amongst the search for hers.
As the weeks passed he stopped attending the dining room, finding comfort in the loneliness of his own unit. They came each day and sat with him. They made him tea, the clanging of the stirring spoon only reminding him of her. They invited him to their unit, but it was not hers. He had asked to keep her wheelchair. It sat in the corner of his lounge room. She was not there.
He woke, the darkness surrounding him. The stillness of the night air filled with memories. He pushed the call button, waiting for the footsteps to come down the hall. She called his name. Death not ageing her beauty, instead radiating a calming aura.
It was his time now. It was their time.
They buried him a few days later.