copyright 2016 Renee Wurzer. all rights reserved. excerpt Chapter 1 of Widowspeak.
Chapter 1 Departure
There is a moment when you realize you are being handled. For me, that moment was shortly after the police Sergeant came out the door of the back porch, the porch that leads to our kitchen, the door we use every day. Behind him is someone new. The Segeant makes the introductions. The man is from the Cremation Society, the one called just a short while ago, the one called because of the privacy and respect given to the family of a recently-deceased friend. The man offers condolences. He’s the eighth man, the seventh stranger, to do so this morning. The EMTs, the fire department Station Captain, the police Sergeant and the Coroner – all these men offered their condolences in the living room, before I moved to the back yard, before this moment, the moment I realize I am being handled.
The reason I am sitting in the back yard is my husband. He died this morning, cardiac arrest, a decade earlier than we’d expected or planned. The man from the Cremation Society is here to assist. He is here to assist me, the widow. He is here to assist the family of the deceased. He is here to assist the emergency personnel. He is here to assist in removing the body from the basement, the body, my husband. No one wanted me to watch that process. No one wanted me to see that happen. That is why I am in the back yard, a place where I cannot watch or see.
Earlier this morning, after the Coroner had departed and before this man arrived, I had returned to the basement.
- in the stillness of time between the departure of the EMTs and the arrival of the funeral director i remove the shoes from my husband’s feet and lie down beside him resting my head on his shoulder cherishing time
The Coroner had gone to the basement before me, made his analysis, and cleaned up the medical intervention sites with a washcloth. Before he’d gone to the basement, he let me be part of that, getting him the washcloth. In the basement he’d gathered up the discarded medical supplies, the pullover hoodie and t-shirt that the EMTs had cut off, a lighter and a pack of cigarettes.
I remember the Coroner being near the front door, his back to the wall, knees bent, achieving a height matching my seated position, casually and intentionally positioning himself so that we were able to comfortably converse. He shared with me his findings – cardiac arrest – asked if I needed an autopsy. Without hesitation I replied: No. I don’t. Do you? He did not. The tension in me is released, a slow jagged exhalation of breath. I close my eyes, teary with emotion and thankful there will be no autopsy.
My mind and body remember the panic that set in earlier when the police Sergeant told me the next step was to call the Coroner. My heart had skipped a beat. I’d heard stories, terrible stories, family members in an adjoining county waiting hours for the Coroner to arrive. Panic evident in my body and on my face, I stammer: How long? How long will he take to get here? I receive the response: Usually 15 to 20 minutes. Comfort fills my soul.
The Coroner has departed. Our daughter goes to the basement next; this is her time with Dad. She takes photographs, in the event her brother or others want or need to see. When she comes upstairs I leave my wicker rocker and make my way down the stairs.
I bring a rug with me, a clean soft faded cotton rug. I lay the rug next to my husband then turn and remove his shoes before lying down beside him, resting my head on his shoulder. Harley, our dog, had come with me. He sniffed around, seemed to understand that death had visited then went off to explore the rest of the basement. I don’t know how long I lay there, next to my husband, eyes closed, remembering, taking in the shape of his shoulder, absorbing the sensation, finding comfort, cherishing time, knowing this would be the last time we’d touch.
Time passes. I hear new and unfamiliar footsteps on the living room floor above me. I hear our daughter's voice. Our daughter comes down the stairway. I get up, turn away from my husband and walk across the basement, climbing the stairs behind her.
Our daughter will later share with me that I’d been in the basement thirty minutes.
Do I carry Harley up? I do not remember. I reach the top of the stairs. I am ushered through the kitchen and out the porch door.
In the back yard just outside the door, the man from the Cremation Society stands in front of me. I am sitting in a lawn chair, sensing no need to stand up as business etiquette and common courtesy might dictate. His body language tells me it is not necessary.
He selects and confirms an appointment for me to meet with him tomorrow morning, Friday at 10:30 at the Cremation Society. His manner is gentle. He speaks softly and clearly, in simple sentences. Do I know the location?
Handing me his business card, he equips me with the address and phone number. In this basic yet complex exchange he gives me permission to fully and simply BE – to be early, to be on time, to be late – a gesture of compassion and understanding. He knows the difficulties ahead, realities not yet familiar to me.
I promise to call if we are going to be late. My response includes more than just me. Our daughter is sitting next to me. As I write I wonder, is her fiancé there too? He’d been there earlier, when we were in the living room. I don’t remember if he is with us in this moment, in the back yard.
Our daughter, her fiancé, our son and his wife, the grandchildren, officially transition. In the wake of death we are now tenderly and in hushed tones referred to as the family. I am the widow. I receive the business card. There is comfort in being handled.
- Pause to remember a time when you were comforted by being handled, by giving over the role of caregiver and quietly accepting care.
My husband is no longer on the basement floor. He is, or rather his body is, in the back of a hearse, or an ambulance, or whatever vehicle is used for that purpose. I didn’t think about it until I began to write this, and now uncovering which vehicle transported him doesn’t offer enough solace for me to expend the energy. Whatever vehicles the men arrived in – and the one my husband departed in – are now gone.
Time passes. Time stands still. I am sitting in the lawn chair in the back yard. The grass is lush and green. The day is warm. The sky was sunny this morning and is now overcast. I sit in the chair, barefoot, wearing two dresses and tears stains...
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