Columbia stood at the side of the bed. The beep, beep of the heart monitor pulsed quietly in the background. It was nearly time. The nurse sat back quietly, giving Columbia space and privacy so she could she could give her uncle her undivided attention. The attending physician ducked into the room to check on his patient. Columbia looked over to him, hoping above all hope the doctor had better news.
He didn’t. He shook his head, sadly. “He went terminal in November of 2012,” he said, “there’s really nothing more we can do.”
“How can you be so sure?” Columbia asked.
“That was when he passed the point of no return. He was deteriorating faster than he could be sustained. I’m sorry, there’s really nothing more to be done.”
Columbia looked back at her uncle. She nodded quietly, a tear rolling down her cheek. Regret swelled within her. The emotions came flooding back – envy, jealousy. Her uncle was a generous man. A kind man. He was selfless in helping anyone who would ask him to, with no expectation of anything in return. He had spent decades working to help others solve their problems, but still his friends at home wanted more from him. They demanded he give more of himself to those capable of helping themselves.
And he did.
Columbia remembered the heated arguments over the years. So many people demanded so much from her uncle. He called in favours, begged and borrowed, and worked himself beyond his means to provide for them.
And it killed him.
Eventually, it was too much. He was losing too much too quickly. He was losing energy faster than he could replenish it. It was bound to take its toll, and today, Columbia’s worst fears came to fruition. The debt was called in.
A hand on her shoulder snapped her back to the present. She flinched, and calmed down when she saw it was only the doctor. Her uncle was still alive, but barely. His breath was starting to rattle.
“It won’t be long now, and we’re making him as comfortable as we can.”
“Can I touch him?” She asked.
Columbia reached forward and took her uncle’s hand. Old, gnarled. She gently ran her thumb across the age spots which stood out against the pale, white skin. She smiled as she remembered that index finger pointing to people her uncle wanted to single out. People he wanted. People he was asking for help. Back in those days, the people he pointed to responded to him. With pride, and without question.
Then, they stopped. They started pointing at him. Not in a friendly way either, but with accusation.
The beeping became a long, drawn out tone. The rattle in his breath became a cough, then stopped.
The doctor reached forward, and turned off the monitor, and the room was plunged into a peaceful, yet deafening silence.
Columbia looked up at her uncle, crying softly.
“Goodbye, Uncle Sam. I will never forget you.”