It is past midnight on the ward. The silence is punctuated by the occasional beeping of infusion pumps and the soft sobbing of relatives. I have just signed the death certificate of an elderly lady.
I offer my condolences to her eldest son and walk away. As I fiddle with paperwork at the nearby counter, I hear the youngest son's voice, cracked and hoarse from crying.
"I can't believe she's gone."
"I know." The eldest brother's voice, also hoarse. "She's at peace now."
"I-- I should have spent more time with her--"
"She loved you. She didn't blame you. Ever."
"She was my whole world. I just liked to pretend she wasn't--"
"She knew. Always."
The younger brother lowers his head and sobs silently into his arm. I try to focus on signing tags. A few seconds pass. I hear the younger son's voice again.
"I...I don't know how to go on."
"Easy for you to say. How do I-- how do I live-- " His voice cracks.
"Because we are her sons. And that is how she raised us." The eldest son straightened up. "If she didn't teach us to be strong enough to live without her - she would have failed as a mother."
The eldest son reaches out and squeezes his brother's arm gently.
"Yes. Okay." The younger son wipes his eyes.
I gather up my paperwork and leave the counter. As I walk away, I hear the younger brother's voice one last time.
"Thank you, brother."
"Thank her." The eldest son's voice sounded steely now. "For making us strong."