(The names of my friends are pseudonyms)
Although I am an early riser, it was unusual to awake at 3:30 and not be able to return to sleep. I could hear that Jerry was restless, too, but thought he would probably go back to sleep. I flipped a bit, looked at the clock twice, then finally a few minutes until it would be 4:00, threw aside the covers, went to the study, did a little research and wrote a column.
My phone rang: The time was 6:30.
“Shirley, this is Alana.” She paused, then blurted out the words, “Pat died.” Her voice broke, then she went on. “At 4:30. She died at 4:30 this morning. Nick and I are down here now.”
Nick and Alana live near us in Crestline, as did Pat and Barney. It was not an unexpected death.
Jerry came into the study about that time and I told him of Pat’s death. A fully scheduled day was ahead of us; the motor home which we had driven over from Lake Havasu and parked down in San Bernardino was to be at Colton Truck Terminal at 8:00 for a repair, and Jerry was fasting, as he was to have an early morning blood-draw. We quickly loaded the car, locked the house, and drove down to Barney and Pat’s.
Is there anyone who is misled by the thought that because a death is fully expected it must be easier to bear, or because the end was considered inevitable the grief is somehow mitigated? Can it be a valid consideration that fewer tears will be shed because Hospice was in attendance, and that doctors had said the end would be soon? Where on the allowable grief meter is a reading from the day before, when in frustration and unknowable discomfort, having fallen from her wheelchair, Pat said to Barney, “Why don’t you just unplug my oxygen?”
The house is a large, expensive one, framed by tall oaks and stately pines that, amazingly, despite the death angel’s having passed still liberally emitted their familiar pungent and soothing green scent. A magnificent view of the lake was Barney’s backdrop as he wilted on a bar stool, still in pajamas, a light robe open and falling about him. He lifted our way, glazed, pitiful eyes, and I saw he was a boy, a little boy in trouble. Help me…can you? Can anyone? Wordless, he pled.
Barney is a large, handsome, sixty-something man, with white hair, and a full beard. I encircled him with my arms, and as he shuddered, I whispered, “I’m sorry, Barney. I’m sorry.” After a minute, I walked away and Jerry moved in to add comfort to our neighbor.
The hospital bed was stripped to the mattress, two attendants were there, writing on what I supposed were medical charts, and Nick was drinking coffee. Alana’s eyes welled often with tears.
Where is Pat? I wondered. Had her body already been taken?
No one said. The skinny dog jumped into my lap, and I petted his nervous little being.
There was a lump of bedclothes on the floor just beyond the chair where I sat. Is that Pat?
No one said.
I wanted to ascertain, wanted to turn about and stare at the pillow and blankets behind me, but I didn’t. We are acquaintances, not close friends, and I did not want to offend with a thoughtless question or gesture.
An attendant walked to the lump, pulled back the blanket, and combed the front of Pat’s hair. I turned my head that way now, and watched, as, on finishing the ministration, she again covered Pat’s face and head with an ivory colored blanket.
After a while, I walked to the pallet, drew back the cover and looked into the cold face of my friend. Her body was full, not emaciated, but with his marker, Death had figured her face. He had drawn away her breath, leaving an enigma, for never entirely comprehended is the process of passing from this life into another.
Before leaving, we all gathered about Barney, and Jerry prayed a beautiful prayer of hope and comfort. “Let us learn to lean on You, Jesus.”
Hours later, I discussed the incident with Jerry and Rebecca, expressing my distress at Pat’s being left on the floor; it didn’t seem right. Her body should have been placed in the bed and arranged nicely, not covered up–a lump near the edge of the room. I was quick to acknowledge there to be only an atmosphere of love in the house, with no sense of ill feelings or friction. Pat and Barney had a wonderful marriage of nearly 40 years.
“Maybe that’s the way she wanted it,” Rebecca said.
“Maybe so,” I had to agree, although I find it hard to believe.
“Don’t leave me on the floor if I fall dead, Rebecca,” I ordered. “Pick me up and put me on the couch or in the bed.”
And I do know that of no concern to the death-slashed is the display of the emptied body, for it is only that; a package, a box, a house for the soul; an eternal entity that now awaits judgment.
My devotional blog is here.