I can't say how long I stood there, with Mrs. Linden looking up at me. Eventually, she stood, and walked to the door. She left and I found myself taking deep, gulping breaths, which only made me wonder why I was still breathing.
The door opened again and she re-entered, carrying a small glass of water, which she handed to me. I realized that my hands and knees were shaking, and I sat.
There were so many things that made no sense. My mind felt crowded and jostling, like an airline counter when a flight is cancelled at the last minute, leaving all the passengers stranded and wanting answers. I clutched the glass and looked at the water. Mrs. Linden took a deep breath and began to speak.
"When I was 68 years old, I celebrated my 45th wedding anniversary by going on a cruise to Alaska. We had a spectacular time, my husband and I. I had retired from teaching. He had sold his business. I was looking forward to visiting my children and two grandchildren. But, toward the end of the trip, I didn't feel well. A very short three months later, I found myself here, in a room very much like this."
I felt a flash of annoyance, shifting in my chair, wondering why we were talking about her life, when it was MINE that had just ended. MY life that had just been stolen.
Calmly, she continued, "Like you, I was confused in the beginning. Bewildered and, eventually, angry. I was so young--not as young as you, obviously--but, still..." she caught my eye "I felt much like you do."
"You were expecting a baby, your first, I believe. I can imagine that you had dreams of raising that baby, and others perhaps."
Mrs. Linden said the last sentence kindly; carefully. Her tone brought my dry eyes to her face, which was set intently towards mine. "You suffered a fatal embolism, Anna. Instant and painless. There was nothing you could do--there was no way you could fight it or see it coming."
I could feel my emotions at the edges--like a tsunami, the numbness was temporary and fragile, the tide of my emotion being pulled out so that it could come crashing down on me with greater force and intensity.
Again, I whispered hoarsely "What is this place?"
"This" she answered, "is your waiting room. It is the place for you to mourn your own death. It is the place for you to ask your questions. You can remain here, as long as you need. If there is anyone you would like to see, I can bring them to you. It is the place for you to say goodbye. When you are ready--you can just open the door and leave."
She stood, smoothing her corduroy jumper with her hands, and in a more business like tone said, motioning to the heavy brocade drapery "Behind that curtain is a window to your old life. The people that you love and left behind are there. Sometimes we need that--we need to see that they're alright. I would advise you to watch with caution... but that is up to you."
Turning to me, she grasped my arms in her hands, and looked into my eyes for a moment. She nodded slightly and said "I'll be back to check on you. Let me know if there is anyone you need to see." With that, she slipped out the door, letting it click quietly behind her.
With two long, desperate strides I crossed the room and wrenched back the curtain.