Tuesday, August 22, 2023

A Peculiar Day

Sunday was a peculiar day.

Dad had died in the morning, passing as peacefully as one might have hoped.  He was at home, in bed, asleep, surrounded by familiar things.  Still and all, sitting with the cooling corpse of your husband of fifty five years, or your beloved father?  It's both peculiarly calm and charged with intensity, the eyewall of a storm.  The process of dying has passed.  The bureaucratic process of dying in this culture and the reality of a life without a loved one awaits.  But in that moment, you sit with cold flesh that just the day before told you that it loved you, that heard your voice, and all is still.

Mom talked to him, and kissed him, and held his hand.  I watched him, trying to take in the few moments we would have with the body that mortality had flensed of his personhood.  Time passed, as we waited for a medical professional to come and confirm what touch and sight made obvious.

There was a knock at the door, and the nurse arrived from hospice, a genial Nigerian.  I welcomed her back to the bedroom, and she listened for a heartbeat.  "He's really quite dead," I said, and she nodded.  Official time of death, Twelve Ten on August 20, 2023, although he'd been dead for two hours. 

The nurse made the call to the funeral home, the same one we'd used for my grandparents O so many years ago.  Information was confirmed.  Names and birthdates and addresses, and the plan was made to pick up the body.  "Sometime in the next two hours," we were told, and that was fine.  The nurse took her leave.  Mom sat with him and kissed him some more, and whispered things in his ear.  Mom and I talked theology for a while, about where Dad was now, not the meat of him, but the geist, the essence, the person, the soul.  Then she wandered off to call a dear friend, and I took her place.

He was so still.  My mind refused to see the stillness.  How could a person be so still?  For a moment or three, it looked like his chest was moving, rising and falling.  Looking closer, my vision swam, my brain struggling to create the illusion of breath.  I touched the body, and it was not actually moving.  And the hand was cold.  And the eyes were closed.  The breath was just as gone as it had been an hour before.  It was just a mild hallucination.  Or perhaps he was settling a little, as the hours passed.

After a time, another knock, and it was the funeral home arriving to take away the body.  Two men, both genial, and we chatted and joked with them as they went about their work.  Getting a human body out of the back bedroom of an early 1960s rambler isn't the easiest thing.  

They wrapped his body in a "bindling sheet," as Buster Scruggs sang it, which isn't a real word but sounds like it should be, and carried him to the waiting stretcher.  They laid him flat, and rigor mortis seemed already to be setting in, his head refusing to settle, his neck stiff, almost like he was trying to rise.  But he was not.  Mom kissed him.  I kissed him.  They covered him up, and were loading him into a minivan as my daughter-in-law arrived.  She hugged Mom for a a while.

Lunch was at a welcoming little family Egyptian restaurant nearby, where I'd taken Mom and Dad a few times as the pandemic waned.  We ate falafel and pita and grape leaves, and talked together.  Then a day of calls to family and friends, organizing and prepping, after which Mom packed a little bag to come spend a few days over at my house. 

When evening came, I asked Mom what she'd like to do.  Watch a movie, perhaps?  

"Read to me from one of your books," she said.  

So I did, reading her short stories from my short story collection as she curled under a hand-woven blanket on our living room sofa, until it was clear she'd fallen asleep.

It was so...calm.  Peculiar.