Shadows can exist only in the presence of both light and darkness. To live in the shadows is to tiptoe on the fine line between the two.
The wail of the siren pierced the peaceful silence of the harmonious neighbourhood, everyone fast asleep.
Everyone, except for Mrs. Prose, who stood unsteadily in her PJs gasping at her front door. With one hand, the elderly woman shakily turned the key into the lock while the other clutched her chest. She tottered from side to side, the words of the paramedic that answered when she’d called the community ambulance ringing in her head.
“Please stay calm ma’am. I need you to leave the door and gate open in case anything happens to you before we arrive. After that, sit down and wait for us, we’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
She pressed the button to open her gate before staggering to the nearby couch. Before she could make it, she was overcome by a wave of dizziness and collapsed.
The cliché is that your life flashes before your eyes when you’re approaching death. More than the brief snatches of consciousness that flitted by, Mrs Prose spent much of the following time reliving that which constantly followed her, and would follow her until her death…
She’d always known that he had a weak heart, but she thought that they would live together forever. Her Griff, who’d stood by her side throughout life from childhood friend to husband.
She never expected that living without him would be so impossible. Looking back, she supposed it was because of the shock from the unexpectedness of his demise, but at that point, all she could think about was that her pillar of strength, light throughout the darkness, and confidante was gone. A father, son, and husband was gone.
But she had to carry on, for the sake of her son. So she’d set aside her grief, and focused on raising her young Shawn, whose bright smile in spite of any adversity mirrored that of his father’s.
Semi-conscious, her eyes fluttered open. Bright lights blurred her vision. Dimly, she was aware of something working in front of her.
“Mrs Prose?” the man turned around. “I’m a paramedic, my name is Kiran Yuan. Can you hear me? You called us earlier, you’re currently in the ambulance. We’re-.”
She could only manage a bare nod before she faded off into unconsciousness…
“Congratulations, Irvetta! This wedding is absolutely breathtaking, Shawn looks so dashing today! Jeanette is so gracious and elegant, what a wonderful daughter-in-law to have!”
“Not only that, I heard Shawn graduated from his Master’s with honours last week. How proud you must be of him!”
“A double blessing indeed!”
Mrs Prose beamed with joy as she was swarmed by friends and relatives who’d come to join in the celebration of her son’s wedding. The cool sea breeze blew gently across the guests as laughter erupted across the beach. The sunset cloaked everyone in a shining glow, the light reflecting upon the sand to create an ethereal feel. This moment would be forever preserved in Mrs Prose’s happiest memories.
That night she laughed and smiled as she hadn’t in a long time, watching on with pride and joy as she witnessed the joy of her loved ones.
Groggily, she pried her eyelids open, the action seeming to take up much of her energy. She smiled faintly at the memory, before her reality caught up to her. Her breath fogged up and she realised that she was wearing an oxygen mask.
“Ma’am, we’re on the way to the nearest hospital. We’ve stabilised your condition, but you may still feel lethargic. Is there anyone you’d like us to call?”
She opened her mouth to answer, then her shoulders sagged.
“No, thank you.”
Not giving him time to reply, she closed her eyes and faded into a weary oblivion.
The house phone rang.
She grabbed the phone to answer it, placing it between her shoulder and ear as she cheerily cut the cake she was preparing for her son’s birthday into layers.
She was greeted by the sound of panicked breathing and hysterical sobs. Her heart sank as dread overcame her. Her hand stilled, the cutting of the cake halted as she focused on the person on the other end.
“Jeanette, is that you? Is everything alright?”
The crying intensified.
“Mum, Shawn is dead! The police found him hanging-”
Her daughter-in-law continued to choke out the details of what had happened, but it meant nothing. That devastating day 8 years ago, those 3 words rang harshly in her head in an endless loop.
Shawn. Is. Dead.
Her son, whom she loved tenderly with all her heart, her sole remaining lamp that glowed in the dark, was gone.
Silence had surrounded the kitchen, broken only by the sound of Jeanette’s heaving breaths and sobs. The knife in Mrs Prose’s grip had fallen with a dissonant clang on the floor. She’d grasped the phone tightly with both hands.
“Wh… what did you say? Shawn is… d-dead? My boy is gone? It can’t be…”
She sank to the floor in shock, all the strength in her limbs deserting her. Never in her worst nightmares did she ever imagine that her son would pass on before her, and definitely not by his own hand. He was the most brilliant soul, his ability to make the best out of any situation was that which persuaded her to leave the grief that permeated throughout her entire being when Griff died.
And now he was gone.
When she gained consciousness once more, this time she didn’t want to open her eyes. Too consumed by her grief, she didn’t want to return to a world where she’d suffered such loss. She wanted to return to them. So, in a futile attempt to escape this harsh reality, she kept her eyes closed, enshrouding her vision with shadows.
Vaguely, she was aware of being pushed on a stretcher, presumably towards the hospital. They didn’t know, however, that while she was being rushed to be treated for physical ailments, what pained her the most was that which couldn’t be seen. Darkness threatened to overwhelm her as they tormented her with the past.
Silently she laid, living in the past as doctors and nurses rushed about, until she heard a timid greeting.
Opening her eyes, she saw an adorable little boy standing at the entrance of the hospital ward, looking worriedly at her through his father’s and grandfather’s eyes. His small hand was held on to by a bigger, slender one. Her gaze travelled upward, and met the equally concerned look of the woman who’d suffered equally as much in recent years. The darkness slowly retreated as she beckoned them to come over.
“Mum, how are you feeling? Mrs Fraser, your neighbour, noticed the ambulance and called me, so we rushed here. The doctor said that thanks to the ambulance’s quick response, the chances of any long-term effects are low, and you’ll be able to be discharged within a week,” Jeanette shared as she sat down and lifted little Shawn, named in honour of his father whom he never got to meet, into her lap.
“Grandma, mama said you’re sick. I hope you get well soon,” the little boy smiled at her, a gap in his teeth adding to his overall charm.
“I’m feeling much better, now that I’ve seen the both of you. Come, sit here, Shawn, and tell Grandma about your day,” she said fondly as she discreetly wiped tears from her eyes with one hand, the other patting the side of the hospital bed.
Jeanette raised him onto the bed and Shawn clambered into his grandmother’s arms and began to tell her about his day. Lifting a frail hand towards her daughter-in-law, the elder Mrs Prose clutched the younger’s hand as both women, bonded together through familial ties and calamity, listened to an innocent young boy happily share the stories of his adventures in primary school.
Although life had dealt her blow after blow, Irvetta Prose realised that there would always be things worth living for, that constantly grieving for the past meant that she would miss out on the joys of the present. Yes, pain was inevitable, but only because she had first loved. For, in the words of Alfred Tennyson, ‘‘tis better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all’.
The Subang Jaya Community ambulance helps to save lives not only by the medical aid they provide, but by reducing the time lag from when the call is made till when the ambulance arrives on scene. Due to a lack of funds, however, it may no longer be able to be kept in operation. They require RM25,000 a month to run, so every donation, regardless how small, is greatly appreciated. To find out more about or to donate to the ambulance or to learn about recent update, please refer to the links.
If you ever need someone to talk to, please call 15999 or Whatsapp +60192615999.
Written By: Marinella Lotte