You died at six-thirty in the evening, whilst no one was looking.
Whilst nurses pushed a drugs trolley and doctors shuffled notes and the other patients settled down to watch the second half. When everyone was busy doing something else, it was then you decided to leave. Silently, without fuss or ceremony, and without any of us even noticing that you were no longer there.
You’d had enough of the ward and the blood pressure machine and the cold cups of tea, which formed a queue on the bedside table. You had grown tired of the circular ward rounds and the doctors who ebbed and flowed, trying to find a reason for their own existence.
When the consultant read out the results of your scan, you turned to him and said ‘so I’m a goner?’ and you stared into the middle distance until the words found your eyes. Then I watched you shake the consultant’s hand, as though you both had made a pact on God’s behalf.
You didn’t cry or argue or search for hope. I wanted to cry and argue and search for hope in your place, but you said that fighting with the referee never got anyone anywhere. Sometimes, it was better just to leave the pitch with your head held high, like a gentleman.
And I was angry, because you never said goodbye.
I had stood by your bed an hour earlier and we watched a perfect goal on the flat screen television which played in a corner of the ward.
“You have to pick your moment and choose your spot,” you said to me. “That’s the secret.”
I was angry, because you never said goodbye, but it was only later, when I remembered the goal, it was only then I realised that you already had.
I just didn’t hear it.
There was no family to ring. No one to apologise to. No one needed a bereavement pack to tell them how to cope.
“Aww, that’s so sad,” said the nurse. She didn’t lift her eyes from Heat magazine. “I’ll ring the mortuary in a minute. I’m on my break.”
I will miss you.
Even though the man at the nursing home had to ask me to spell your name and a key still hung in the latch of your empty locker. Even though other people’s relatives always borrowed the empty, plastic chair by the side of your bed and no telephone ever interrupted us with questions about what kind of night you’d had.
Now, each time I walk on to the ward and look over to see a stranger lying there, I will miss you again and again. I’m not sure how these things work, but I hope you know that someone cried for you. I hope you know that your life was worth that much. And yet I hate myself for such selfish tears. Tears which reassure me that you mattered and tears for my own inadequacy, because I know I could never leave with such grace and dignity.
And because I didn’t say my goodbye, I will write for you instead. Somehow, I think by writing, the world will be vindicated. These words are an absolution for the empty, plastic chair and the silent telephone and by committing you to paper, in some small corner of the earth, you will always be remembered.
Because you should always be remembered.
You left the pitch with your head held high, like a gentleman.
And you were the bravest man I ever met.