The Last Moments of an Ex-Soldier

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short report on my last days looking after a senior veteran who eventually became more than just a patient.

Submitted: April 05, 2016

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Submitted: April 05, 2016




For three years I cared for an eighty-seven-year-old veteran who eventually became my best friend. He and I lived alone in his old house, whose cracked walls invoked voices and family scenes of a remote past when he, his wife and four boys lived under the same roof. He was not a well-schooled man, nor was he adroit at expressing his innermost emotions and ideas. But he had goodness and genuineness in his heart. When his wife, Mary Ann, died seven years ago, life lost some of its appeal to the hopelessly romantic Italian man with a patriarchal mentality and ingrained paternal instincts. She became the central theme of his daily remembrances of the war and of the days when he, alone and by his own will, carried the heavy burden of sustaining a large family. 

He passed away recently, my first close contact with death. The night before his transition we talked for a while, and he even made jokes and faces. But it didn't take much for the old man to feel tired and sleepy. When I was about to leave his room to get some sleep, his coarse and shaky hand grabbed mine. He confessed that he had loved me as if I were his own son and promised to keep an eye on me in his next life. Being an avid reader, he mentioned how deeply touched he was when he read a poem that I once wrote and inadvertently left on the kitchen table. He said he knew his time to meet his wife had come. I asked if he was afraid. He answered that he was looking forward to his dream, a real one that would never end. I once asked him what paradise looked like in his visions. He pictured himself living with Mary Ann in a sheep farm, enjoying life away from the stress and demands of the so-called civilized society. He held my hand tighter, pressed it against his bare chest, and said goodbye. 

He fell asleep and didn't wake up again. The next day his breathing was loud and hesitant. Stubbornness, humour, anger, and love no longer animated those lips and muscles. Fading vital signs were the only traces left of the one once named Pasquali, a blue-collar worker whose raging voice would shake the house's foundations whenever I saw fit not to comply. But the insubordination he was not used to eventually elevated me to a position superior to that of his four blood-related submissive sons. As a child I pictured death as a ghastly entity, but in his final moments, while I held him close to me, I saw death drawing on a sleeping face peaceful lines. She nestled against her bosom the soul of a dying veteran as she gradually released him from the worn-out body and prepared him to be taken away to his rightful place among the just. 

We are immortals. The physical body degenerates and disappears. The pure core of our conscience is eternal and impervious to time. Among other reasons, the old soldier was brought into my life so that I could watch over him and prepare him for his final travel. We had numerous conversations about this phenomenon called death, which he faced with the braveness of a soldier and the serenity of those who have faith in the unfailing Providence. 

The walls of the crumbling house would no longer resonate at night from the shouts of a sleeping veteran running for protection from a crossfire, nor with weeping clamours invoking the missing companion. I wondered what his first sight was when he regained conscience on the other side. Most likely someone who from a great distance looked familiar, tending sheep in a verdant field. That presence would soothe his ever-present memories of bloodshed and of struggle for daily survival. 

He received two medals during his military service. The third one awaited him with open arms. In the form of Mary Ann. The one he ever loved and touched.



© Copyright 2018 Marcos Antonio. All rights reserved.

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