Their Body: It’s Not Them Anymore But It Still Deserves Our Thanks

(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 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

3 responses

  1. I understand this, Dia. Perhaps two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to relate to a single word. But I really think I understand this…deeply. The subject of slow good-byes makes me think of two things:
    1. Funny that segments of our society seem to be relishing the notion of “slow,” these days: slow cooking, slow books, slow travel, slow money….
    2. I wonder if all those old ghost stories that have frightened and titilated kids and adults through the centuries don’t actually have a scientific kernal of truth at their hearts. If a person is “pushed” out of the shell of his soul too quickly…his tranisition will be incomplete…who knows what the consequences of that might be?


    • Folk stories in general have always contained an enormous amount of practical, embedded information about life. That’s the only reason they survive over the ages. The problem is that with the current (and somewhat exclusive) emphasis on scientific language, extracting said information can be complicated if not impossible due to translation challenges. Speaking classical “folk story” is like speaking a dead language.
      Once the research begins in earnest, I’m sure the traditional explanation of ghosts and other phenomena that occur around the dying time will eventually translate into an expanded scientific understanding and terminology. And at that point people will no longer be ridiculed for talking about these kinds of experiences. It will increase our ability to communicate about them considerably.
      But the deep, inherent value of the experiences themselves won’t change. Regardless of what language we choose to describe them, we’ll still be experiencing the same things that our ancestors did way back when folk stories began, with the same gifts of healing and connection that they’ve always bestowed.
      The great news is that no one needs to wait for science to tackle the subject to HARVEST the gifts…only to TALK about them.

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