(This is the conclusion of the previous post, It’s OK To Still Love Their Bodies Once They’re Gone.)
The hubster and I returned to Mr. B’s house the following day and, not having been around a dead body this far after the fact before, I wondered if it would smell. The answer, happily, was no, even though the house was quite warm. I’m not sure what the usual rate of decomposition is, but in Mr. B’s case, twenty-four hours hadn’t been long enough to pose a problem. In addition, not only had Mrs. B and I carefully bathed his body shortly before I left the day before, she and Cousin A had bathed it again in the evening. I admit that even though I was prepared to accept whatever state his body was currently passing through, finding it clean, cared for, and odor-free was definitely better.
After greeting the family and catching up on events of the night, I finally walked over to the bed to see him. The difference a day makes is profound. Mr. B no longer looked even remotely lifelike–on the contrary, he looked unearthly. His skin was white and flawless, like fine porcelain. As though an artist had slipped in during the night and shaped an exquisite replica of Mr. B’s face down to the tiniest, loving detail, kissed it, and then left it there against the pillow before slipping away again.
He was resting beneath a lovely, homemade quilt a friend had given him during the fruitless months in rehab and, being the tactile person I am, reached down and laid my hand on his chest. I knew, of course, he would have hardened by now. I was expecting that. It was the cold that surprised me. Strangely, he felt even colder than the room, but that may have just been a mistake of expectation. He might have seemed colder because some deep, unquestioned instinct in me–the one that has to believe my loved ones will always, always be warm–was inexperienced.
I stood there for a minute, waiting for another wave of some emotion to hit me…loss, repugnance, regret, relief…but there was nothing really. Just peace. He was still and I was still. The storm and wild ride had come to an end and now all I felt was finished. It was as though Mr. B had retired the day before with great fanfare, gratitude, and good wishes, and now I’d returned to work in the morning to stand gazing for a minute at his empty cubicle.
Although, no. Not a cubicle. His body wasn’t like that at all. A cubicle is just some sterile, temporary workspace that we work in for eight hours before we get to go home at night. His body was so, so much more than that. It was everything that had been solid and warm and real, the part of him we got to touch and dance with and talk to. His body was the strong and loving arms that reached out and held us when we were small or lonely or afraid. The voice that whispered to us, and laughed out loud, and trembled sometimes with the strength of emotions he could barely contain. It was the seeds that brought children, and their children, and their children into this world. And it was the lips that shaped a lifetime of slow, thoughtful words and then kissed us, warm and reassuring, against our cheeks or foreheads or lips.
No. Mr. B’s body was nothing like a cubicle. It wasn’t him either, but it was still something amazing and beautiful and longed for…something we were so grateful to know and touch while we had the chance, and that we’ll ache for now that it’s gone. I think when someone dies like this, it’s actually a double loss; we lose THEM…that vibrant, animated, unique pulse of Life that was their miracle and gift to this world…as well as the intimacy, comfort, and warmth of their physical self.
It’s so much, this loss..so huge.
And yet, easier to bear somehow because this time at least, our good-byes were lingering. Because he stayed with us for just that little while longer…giving him the time he needed to unwind from his body and us the time we needed to unwind from him.
copyright 2011 Dia Osborn