I can’t tell you exactly what happened Thursday night. But I can tell you that I saw a friend take her last breath. A friend who is supposed to turn twenty-one in twelve days. I will write about everything, but I won’t be sharing it, because turning off your loved ones life support is one of the most horrific things you can ever do, and now I’ve been there twice when two families have experienced it. And once is already enough for a lifetime.
I can say that I was with a beautiful and spirited family as their daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece and friend passed from this life and into her next. It’s an incredibly intimate experience. So delicate. Being present for the family meeting with the Intensive Care specialist who tells you that your friend was declared brain-dead earlier during the day and that no, none of her organs can be used even though she so desperately wanted to be an organ and tissue donor because she had been a recipient of someone’s altruism and kindness in the same situation only a couple of years ago as family and friends prayed and listened over and over to Nickelback’s ‘Lullaby’.
I’m sitting with Tameah’s family and friends in a bubble of grief where everything is a blur. I know grief needs time to breathe, but it’s like breathing through a straw and running with your eyes closed not knowing what to do, what to say, where to go, how to feel or how to be. Everything is magnified and flush, but not. I feel everything and nothing. There is a feeling of a vague dislocation. Of being broken. Of being put back together. Of putting other people back together. But I realise that I’m not broken; my spine is just a little curved and in time, I will unfurl. We all will. Or maybe we won’t.
It was like this: The machines were turned off. My mind spun off into a web of white, then nothing. After the heat, there was peace, and I was sucked back to the bed, and the heat and the peace turned into pain. Once I am beside her, I dab the corner of her mouth with a tissue, brush back her perfectly ginger hair I told her to never, ever dye, and take her petichiaed hand. The nurse clips a lock of her hair and brings in a plate of pink paint, because she couldn’t find Tameah’s trademark purple. She is gentle and unhurried, and the three of us – the nurse, Tameah’s partner Ben and I – try to roll out the perfect finger print.
Ben and I walk to the elevator, heads down, faces downtrodden. The doors close and I ask, ‘what the fuck just happened?’ Ben shakes his head. Later, when we hop into the lift alone, the lift stops. We’re not moving, even though I’m madly pressing buttons. Tameah’s spirit is already at work. The lift doors open and we wander out into the night.
Afterwards, there are times when I say out loud, ‘No, Tameah, no,’ as though in a state of confusion. Odd times like in the ice cream aisle in the supermarket, but more often than not, on the toilet. Because like Melanie, like Ed – Tameah wasn’t supposed to die. And she wasn’t supposed to die like this. Not on life support. Not just before her 21st birthday where there were several gigantic surprises coming her way. Not when she was about to start photography college.
But back to ‘Lullaby’. Listen to the words. It’s a big, fat ‘FUCK YOU’ to something like Cystic Fibrosis, and so is surviving a double lung transplant. I remember Tameah and I at the Nickelback concert last year, where through a close friend’s friend, she got her wish to meet Nickelback. She apparently smiled for three weeks. Ended up in hospital the day after the concert, but smiled for three weeks anyway. That was the essence of Tameah.
When the piano was brought onto the stage, Tameah looked at me with a sense of urgency in her face and said, ‘Daniel … the piano … it has to be Lullaby!’, and when the piano began to trill, we embraced, smiled wildly and cried. She’d made it, and I’d made damn sure I’d delivered her to the front of the mosh pit which I’m so happy I did. If anyone knocked into her, out came the dagger eyes. If they kept knocking into her tiny frame after a few unfriendly stares, I had something to say.
Tameah was a photographer of spectacular talent and owned (and loved) many snakes, reptiles and other animals. I was never scared of snakes, but she made me love them. They’re beautiful, lean and friendly creatures that just want to slide through your fingers and cuddle you. This is Biscuit, Tameah’s lovely olive python giving me a hug at Prince Charles Hospital. You read right – Tameah would take her snakes into hospital with her. I’ve heard stories about them hanging from I.V poles and from squealing nurses. She always had a couple of bags of snakes with her.
And her photography … breathtaking, in a beautiful way …
And here is ‘Lullaby’ – Tameah’s song. The third day of October is here on in known as Tameah Woodford Day. Tomorrow, I’ll be going to the funeral home with Tameah’s Ben and her family where we will organise her funeral. I’m tired of negotiating death and coming out with such a raw deal, and watching others cross the same fire.