It’s been a long time coming . . .
It’s gonna be a long time gone.
-- David Crosby
Today, Friday, the weight has lifted; heaviness remains.
The heaviness is a black hole who’s infinite mass makes the concept of “weight” seem slightly . . . daft.
An invisible sun rises and the morning comes muggy and grey with the promise of rain. It came in darkness for you. After waking up at one, two and then four o’clock, you finally decide to just get up. The eulogy you’ve been working on for two days could still use some polishing; you’ll deliver it one-time-only, about six hours from now. It better be good.
Your father, Stewart Albert Hurlburt, died tonight in his home of twenty years at 7:45 as you, your mother, and his (still) daughter-in-law sat outside on the deck ten feet below him, finishing dinner and talking about . . . what? Nothing really. The nurse appears; from the corner of your eye you see her walk into the living room. She’s been sitting with your dad and there’s no reason for her to come downstairs except . . .
She says, haltingly, that we all might want to go up to his room.
Don’t believe the line: “He died peacefully in his sleep.” Bullshit. “Peace” is not: the Bastard Death eating flesh, organs, heart, memory and soul (make no mistake: it devours the soul) away until you die. Yes – his eyes are closed, he’s in bed, he’s not thrashing about – but, “sleeping?” Really? Peace and sleep are relatively grotesque, lame euphemisms that have nothing to do with it.
You’d rather say he died with a certain symmetry and order (concepts he loved): the first heart attack was Labor Day, 2010; he died Labor Day, 2012. Dying, of course, is not easy; it is work, hard work. Labor.
There are tears – not wracking and slobbering, you’ve already done that a few times – but gentle and resigned and relieved and sad and . . . glad? He’s gone; he’d suffered too damn long. You’re happy? Not exactly, but still . . .
His head is turned to one side, the mouth open – just one last breath. You put your hand on his still-warm chest; it has a heart but no beat. Nothing covers his ribs but a raged t-shirt and skin; his flesh was not weak, it was gone.
“Skin and bones.” You idiotically think of Sally Struthers and starving Biafran children. Jesus, what is wrong with you?
Your mom dabs tears; she lets out a small groan – an ancient, primitive, guttural, involuntary ache. She puts her hand on his forehead. She (and Sandie and you) looks at what used to be Him. “Awww . . .” So much heartache in one small utterance. Her first word as a member of that horrible sisterhood: The Widows.
You sit in the chair beside the hospital bed (the one he’d slept in for twenty years had been replaced several days ago). You get up, walk into the hallway. You come back in the room and sit in the chair and stare. You get up, back into that same damn hallway. You return to the same damn chair. What the hell are you doing?
The minutes tick by at the raw beginning of this first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life. Utility and pragmatism unexpectedly kick in. The nurse has called the hospice people; someone will come to record the death. She asks us to leave the room so she can make Stew presentable, i.e., straighten out his head, cross his arms nicely across his waist, make the sheets neat and just so.
The necessities. You start calling people: Rebecca and Jenny (your daughters), Jane (your mother’s sister). You text friends. You think to post on Facebook but don’t. You haven’t been able to reach Jenny and you don’t want her to find out that way.
The nurse tells us it’s OK to go back in the room. The mouth is still “oh” agape. My mother tries closing it; it resists.
Then a blur. You go downstairs. You gently cry. You hug each other. What else? At some point you get pen and paper and start to make a to-do list. You wait for Rebecca to arrive in case she wants to see the body. She arrives and says no, she doesn’t. Does the hospice rep arrive before or after Rebecca? You can’t remember.
The hospice rep calls the funeral home. Soon an Unmarked Black Van arrives. (You idiotically think of Mission Impossible – not the jacked-up movie, but the great TV show you watched religiously with your brother in happier family days). You open the door and see two young guys – one black, one white – getting out of the van, the white one still getting dressed for the occasion: he’s trying to attach a clip-on bow tie. My mother tells him not to worry, but he puts it on anyway. With their standard-issue and somewhat ill-fitting Men in Black suits, shoes and ties, they could pass for Mormons making one last house call, doing mission work.
Polite to a fault, they shake your hand and look you in the eye. They’re sorry for your loss. They convey sincere sincerity and pastoral corporate compassion. They are on a mission. They’re impossibly young, and their job is to ferry old, dead people back and forth. Jesus.
They bring in a stretcher, which is impossibly . . . narrow. In the span of a week, your dad has gone from his own four posted double bed to a hastily assembled single-size hospital bed to this stretcher that’s barely a foot wide. Well, at least you know he’ll fit on it easily and they won’t have any trouble carrying it to the van.
more to come . . .
more to come . . .