I knew Amy wasn’t doing well; when I had seen her on Friday, she just laid in bed, breathing heavily. She didn’t even turn to look at me, much less talk. I had sat with her for a while, sang Amazing Grace almost inaudibly, and left the small bag of bananas and salt prunes she had requested on the small table beside her bed.
I had left strict instructions with the nurses that night—Please, call me if anything happens. Call me if she passes. I want to know. I didn’t know if they’d be able to reach any family for Amy, as family contact had been spotty at best the entire time she’d been in the hospital. I wanted there to be someone who could bear witness to her last moments.
She passed on Saturday evening, the nurse on duty told me.
I stifled a gasp but managed, Was it peaceful?
She was asleep, the nurse confirmed. Amy had suffered enough in a life of sex and drugs and wandering; it was good her last moments were not also spent thrashing and fighting. (Though her spirit was such that that would not have surprised me, either.) Oh, Ms. Nichole?
We haven’t been able to reach her mother. None of the numbers we have work. Amy had called her mother from my phone earlier this week, since she didn’t have one of her own. I remember their screaming match and Amy’s tears as she slammed the phone shut.
I have her number. I will call.
How does one tell a mother that her child has died?
I was twenty-two at the time, not yet even a medical student. I was not yet versed in the worlds of suffering and death. I didn’t know what the right words were. (I still don’t.) But with shaking hands, I found her number from Amy’s calls the week before. And dialed.
Mrs. Alders? This is Nichole, I’m a friend of Amy’s. Look, I’m so sorry to say this, but Amy died last night.
In the background, I could hear her screaming and hyperventilating, and then a sob. And then the phone disconnected.