General Fiction posted August 20, 2013 Chapters:  ...7 8 -9- 10... 


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Smiley, who is due to die tomorrow gives gifts

A chapter in the book One Death at a Time

Smiley's Surprise

by writerwish



Background
Carl and his wife look for a euthanasia house. Carl has terminal bone cancer and is in much pain. They find one and also lots of surprises.
The setting is a euthanasia house located in the Poconos mountains  in New York. Everyone needs to stay two weeks before the euthanasia can take place. Carl and his wife, Colleen arrived here last Thursday. Today is Sunday. Another resident named Smiley (a 32-year-old with pancreatic cancer) is due to die the next morning. He gathers the group for a good-bye.

Smiley’s Surprise (Carl writes)

This was a day I wanted to forget. But it would be the day I would remember most vividly. My own death was only ten days from today.

It was the last time I saw Smiley alive. Throughout my life, I wondered what it would be like to know when I was going to die and perhaps to know when others would die.  I thought it would be a good thing. Now I am not so sure. Perhaps it is best for us if we don’t know when.

Who determines when it is our time to go? Should we really have that right? I wondered.

Sure, we in this house, may have the control of the last few weeks, but what’s that in comparison to a lifetime? I hoped to learn more while I was here.

For Smiley, tonight would be his last night. He would be done learning. Perhaps, I could still learn from him. He would choose to die tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning. This would be our very last chance to see him.
Smiley had told us he had a surprise for us. And he certainly did.

On Sunday evening, he served us fresh lemonade and s'mores around a campfire he had built in the yard, not too far from the beautiful stone patio. Folding chairs were placed all around it. Tied to these green folding chairs were streamers of red, white and yellow. I suppose to make us feel more festive.

There were nine of us all together. Smiley, Hazel, Greta and her sister, Mom, Colleen and me and Fred and Wilma.

Smiley said he loved camping, s'mores and just looking into the flames. He said he was especially fond of fire at night. I too find that there is comfort in the warmth and coziness of a fire.

"I have written something for all of you. I just want you to know how much I appreciate..." But not even Smiley could smile now. He could not read it. His lips quivered in the darkness.

He looked at Mom. Mom knew what that meant. She would read this for him. But it was Smiley's last attempt to encourage all of us in his own words. 


"When I first heard I had pancreatic cancer and it could not be cured, the doc told me to go home and get my affairs in order. I did more than that. And I immediately made my bucket list. I wanted to go on a cruise ship. I went to the Bahamas.

I wanted to see what was left of my family. I took off to see my sister and spent a whole week just reminiscing about our life together. She respected that for the remainder of my time left, I wanted to be alone and just try a few treatments. I told her I was going here and she was concerned that it would be depressing for me.

Well this place has been one of my best memories. I have met very caring and sweet people here. You have kept me out of self-pity, which I may have fallen into. I have been able to help others through cooking and joking, even though I was weak and didn’t have much time left.

The groups helped me see the world differently. To see death differently.
I learned that life is for the living and that death is just a part of this process, not just for me but for everyone. I learned that most people in the world do care about others, even if they just met.


Death causes people fear because they feel vulnerable.

I am no longer afraid to die, but welcome it as a passage to peace. I do not claim to know what will happen afterwards, but when I see creation, its beauty and the playfulness of animals such as squirrels and monkeys, I know he must have something good in mind for us.

I hope I have brought you just a little bit of happiness or laughter. I wish you all the very best
.”


Mom and Smiley had been planning this surprise for us. The s'mores and fire were only part of it. Smiley had much more in mind. Mom brought out a shopping bag and handed each of us a gift and said it was from her and Smiley. There were hand-made bows made of red crinkle ribbon tied onto white tissue paper wrapping.  All the gifts were the same size.  We opened them.

Inside we found a 5x7 photo. Ours was a photo of Colleen and I at the Villa Roma. We were smiling broadly with nothing but sheer joy in the moment. It was one of the best pictures we had ever taken together, except for the birth of our first child, where we looked longingly into each other’s eyes as if there were no world and no worries. Only hope and happiness existed.

Mom had been sneaking around, taking the pictures, while Smiley got us all to laugh that night.

Smiley had been secretly crafting his frames all week to have them ready for tonight. The frame itself was wooden, but had been carved by Smiley.  He had carved a different saying about laughter or smiling on each one. 

Hazel got one of her and Smiley together in the kitchen, laughing. It said:
“I've never seen a smiling face that was not beautiful.”

Hazel had a smile that could warm a cold mountainside. This was perfect for her.

Greta and her sister were playing cards and even though it was hard to catch a smile from Greta, Mom and Smiley did it.  

It said: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

Although Greta hardly remembered her sister anymore, I was sure Greta’s sister would treasure this for a long time to come.

Fred and Wilma’s picture had to be the funniest of all. While at the Villa Roma, when Smiley was telling jokes with Fred, Wilma laughed herself, literally under the table. So here she was this frail woman with cancer, oxygen tube and sparse reddish hair sliding under the table and laughter written all over her face.  Fred and l had to brace her up and help her get re-seated.

Smiley had carved in: “Laughter is an instant vacation.”

I was sure that Fred would have many more ‘instant’ vacations. I would miss Fred.  He would be leaving too in a few days after Wilma’s death day, which I think was scheduled on Thursday.

When Colleen opened ours, I held it for her, so she could read it.
She read it out loud, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.”

Everyone here now knew how true this was. Yes, laughter that night and for Colleen, many nights to come, laughter would give her some relief. I think Smiley knew it would be more difficult for Colleen than for the rest of us.
I thought about how Colleen’s mind worked and how she may have a hint of guilt when she laughed, knowing how I died and how much pain I was in. So this was perfect for her. I wanted her to be happy after my passing and live life to the fullest.

No one even knew these pictures were being taken. Smiley and Mom were in cahoots. Mom asked if we wanted to do group picture, since the cat was now out of the bag. Many yeses ensued. A few poses and we were back to our seats.

In the light of the fire, I noticed how yellow Smiley’s skin had become. He usually had on long sleeves but tonight he had on a bright red tee shirt.  I realized now that the tan on his face was not a tan at all, but part of the disease. I was sitting next to him. Men do not usually look into each other’s eyes, but I did that night. The whites of his eyes were also that stained color. I wondered how he pretended to be so well, when I knew he must have been so weak and nauseous inside.

Smiley got up and thanked all of us for helping him through this final phase of his life. Then, of course, being Smiley, he cracked a few jokes.

“Laughter is the best medicine. Unless, of course, you are a diabetic, then you should get insulin.”

“Laughter is the only medicine without side effects.”


 
 
Then finally a Woody Allen joke, “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.”

Everyone was moved to get up and give Smiley a hug. We thanked him for the gifts. We thanked him for the jokes. Colleen said, “Thank-you for just being you, Smiley.”

After a few more s'mores and more conversation, we shook Smiley’s hand. I did not have the courage to cry out loud. I know everyone felt that sorrow one feels when saying goodbye.

I went to bed that night, knowing how precious life was, and I was glad to still have ten days left. Tonight I would start my own short bucket list.

Without my pain medicine and sleeping pills, it might have been hard to stop mulling this night over and over again in my mind. I hoped Smiley would be able to feel peace in his sleep tonight.

Tomorrow the talk on “The Freedom to Die” would be given.  I somehow wished it could be about the “Freedom to Never Die.”

 


Recognized


Thanks to MgySgtMarine for the perfect pic
Any and all suggestions appreciated.
Is it too drawn out? Realistic? Tenses okay?
Thank you.
Characters:
Mom-The proprietor and caretaker of this euthanasia house
Carl (now Roger)-Bone cancer patient looking for relief
Colleen (now Cindy)- Carl's wife
Fred-Talkative husband who has a wife that is dying here
Wilma-Has 40% of heart working and lung problems. She worked at hospice and is resolved to die here.
Smiley-Young 32-yr-old with pancreatic cancer who has been told he had 3 months to live. He wishes to cheer up others.
Hazel-A volunteer who comes in to clean and cook. Her husband died here and she has been volunteering since.
Greta-Has brain tumors and dementia. She likes to pretend she is back in the civil war period and plays cards. Barely recognizes her sister who visits
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