“I would like it very much if you were all here with me,” Hannah said, wheezing. She coughed several times.
“Mom!” Abbi exclaimed, rushing to her side.
The coughing spell subsided, and Hannah shook her head, holding up a placating hand. “No, no, it’s nothing. Please don’t make a fuss. There’s nothing to be done. Just, please… be here with me. And call my siblings, please. They need to know. Harry would be devastated if he couldn’t come in time…”
“I’ll make the calls,” Abbi said, trying to occupy herself.
Brenda exchanged a look with Abbi and nodded, drawing up a chair next to Glen. Abbi left the room and made the calls she dreaded. Irma said she’d be on the first plane out, but Abbi thought, with a sinking heart, that she would be too late. Within the hour, Harry was at the door.
Abbi supposed she could have let Alan or Tom answer the door, but she was a bundle of nerves as she flitted about the house. When she opened the front door and saw the pain etched in every line of her uncle’s face, she couldn’t compose herself to speak. Harry entered and hugged his niece.
“Chin up, Abbi, child,” he said in his usual gentle manner he’d used with her since she had been small.
Abbi half-laughed, half-hiccupped. “I’m not a child anymore, Uncle Harry, but thanks.”
“Ah, you’re a child to me, old fart that I am. It’s okay to fall apart, to be like a child, especially right now. Where is she?”
“This way.” Abbi couldn’t help but smile. Her uncle always knew how to make her laugh.
Harry fell silent as he followed his niece to his sister’s side. He took Hannah’s hand in a similar manner as she’d held his all those years ago in the hospital after he had been in the accident.
“What’s this all about, then?” he asked. “I always imagined the roles reserved here, sis. What are you doing in this bed, hmmm?”
Hannah’s chuckle came as a rasp, then a cough, but her eyes shone with mirth.
Recovering, she said, “You never let up, do you, silly brother? I guess the good Lord has use of you yet here.”
“Can’t imagine for what.”
“There you go again, selling yourself short.”
“You think you know what’s best for me, eh? Leaving me ain’t it, Hannah-panna.”
“You never stop, do you?”
They exchanged their friendly banter for a little while longer before Hannah grew serious. “But don’t ever stop, Harry. Don’t ever stop making people laugh and smile. It’s what you do, who you are. You and that big heart of yours.”
Eyes shining with tears, Harry said, “There’s one person whose smile I haven’t seen in far too long. You tell Kathy when you see her – you tell her I’m coming for her soon.”
“I will. I promise.”
“Then it’s settled. Maybe you can leave after all. Don’t let an old bugger like me keep you.”
Harry hugged Hannah one last time and said his farewells to her children. After he left, Hannah’s eyes implored her youngest daughter, then her other children, to sit with her. Breathing was becoming increasingly difficult, so she didn’t waste her words. Each breath, each utterance, and each heartbeat were precious, now more than ever for Hannah.
Hannah’s eyes slipped shut, and her hands fell loose at her sides. To her children, she appeared to be sleeping with difficulty, as every breath was labored, rattling through her chest and out again.
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