The cancer clinic was full, crowded and I kept thinking how the usual ways we group people together just didn’t apply there. Those words that trick us into thinking we understand the people around us: man-woman, old-young, tall-short and give us a sense of predictability and control.
But this space was different. There was a sameness rooted in deep-shared community and experience. If ever there was something that democratizes life and eliminates difference, its facing death.
This was my first time in the clinic. It takes up three maybe four floors, with a shared courtyard. There’s a skylight and countless ferns and ivy’s cascading over the centre space of every floor. It’s beautiful. I wasn’t expecting that.
My friend and I wait.
Then out of nowhere, I hear a bell ringing. A tinkling clear tone that silences every conversation. Once it stops, the applause starts. I don’t know what it means so I ask.
It means someone has finished chemo. This is the way the last visit is celebrated. The bell is a sign of congratulations, survival and solidarity.
Just having it explained to me brings me to tears – makes me shiver. Part of me thinks I have no right to cry here but I think this is one of the loveliest practices.
So I bite my lip, straighten my back and pretend to be untouched behind a mask of dispassionate curiosity. But behind it I’m shattering and I wonder if there’s a special practice for patients who choose palliative/ in home hospice care like my friend has.
Four hours later we leave the clinic. We’re both exhausted and empty.
There isn’t a single patient, its deserted. The quiet is eerie. The sound of the bell is the only thing still there from before. It’s suspended in the air like an echo.
So am I. I’m pushing a wheel chair, ushering my friend back home, but so am I.
It was a summer filled with moments like that. I knew saying yes would change everything, would change me, I just didn’t expect it would happen so fast.