Where do we come from
Where do we go
Is there an “after”
How do we know?
Where do we come from
Where do we go…
Last Friday night, at about eleven-thirty P.M., I saw my first ever dead body.
The body belonged to my mother-in-law who, five months short of her hundredth birthday, had, shockingly though not unexpectedly, left the building. When the call came, I accompanied other family members to the Nursing Home, to deliver our farewells. I rode up to the Second Floor, stepped into the room, and there she was.
It’s an understatement to say that I was unprepared for the experience.
I am not a farmer, who has to clean up after the coyotes make a bloody mess of the chickens. I do not fire guns, wring necks or chop heads off to procure my food. I leave that to others, and wait for the end product to show up at my supermarket, sheathed in cellophane.
When my father died, I was six, and was wisely, they believed, shielded from the experience. When my mother died, I was in Hawaii. When I arrived, she was already in a box.
Though hardly oblivious to its existence, I do not know death first hand.
In this culture, at least today, we are remarkably insulated from any intimate contact with the “no more.” Death is behind the drawn curtain, down the service elevator, and then off to the funeral home. It’s as if they have simply disappeared. A denier could easily believe they are not gone at all. Though a familiar piece of furniture now sits mysteriously in their living room.
I am not here today to do eulogize my late mother-in-law. Others are more qualified for that task. I will mention only three pleasant memories. We sang old songs together. She included me in a financial arrangement I had no business being part of. And she liked to flirt, still at it barely a week before she finally, mercifully, let go.
(It’s nice to know the range of your appeal. Mine, apparently, extends beyond ninety-nine. I am not equally clear about the lower end.)
She was lying in her bed, her upper body uncovered, and open for viewing. Her eyes were shut, her mouth frozen in a tall “O”, eerily reminiscent of that famous painting, “The Scream.”
The body lay other-worldily still, devoid of movement, no breathing in and out. This, as Monty Python might rudely remark, was an ex mother-in-law.
I didn’t stare, although the impulse was powerfully present. As was the impulse to run away. I wanted to say goodbye. Maybe go over, for one final, gentle kiss on the forehead.
But then – and I know this is a cliché, though it’s considerably less of one when you’re physically involved – I realized that the focus of our attention, that person who I had known for more than thirty years…
Was no longer there.
The body was there, her earthly receptacle. But its longtime resident, the woman who, for a hair less than a century, had called that body “home”, was now
Leaving behind the corporeal counterpart of an unplugged radio.
The other part of her – and it seemed unmistakable that there was another part because the part in question was now strikingly missing – call it the soul, call it the spirit, that element in their makeup that makes a person uniquely and essentially them, at some point, that part had quietly fluttered up through the “O”,
And was now elsewhere.
Precisely where “elsewhere”, or even if there is a “elsewhere”, I have no idea.
All I knew was,
There was nobody there to kiss goodbye.
I said a quiet “So long”, and I stepped out of the room.