Getting things organized kept her mind and body busy over the days and nights following his death.
Who needed to be called? What paperwork needed to be done?
Phone calls to strangers, beginning with, “I am calling to report the death of…” She always faltered here, even after the 10th call. This wasn’t supposed to be her job. Her job was keeping him fed and hydrated, clean and warm.
Instead, she found herself in a funeral home for the first time ever in her life, picking out an urn, choosing designs for the guest book and programs for the funeral, signing paperwork.
Oh, dear Lord, the paperwork! Who even thinks about all the forms that have to be filled out and signed? Who thinks about military records so there can be an honor guard present? Who thinks about changing the names on the bank accounts and the title of the house? Who thinks about powers of attorney that will now have to be arranged for someone to take care of her own shit when she kicks the bucket.
They had bought and paid for their cremation niches years ago, and made arrangements well in advance, so why was she doing all this now? The things no one tells you about, she thought. So many things!
So the days following his death were a blur of work and arrangements, and by the time the funeral came around, she was numb. She sat in the pew at the front of the church and recited the prayers and sang the songs and let the tears flow as she listened to others extoll the virtues of the man she had spent her entire adult life with.
It wasn’t until they had gone to the cemetery for the inurnment that she began to wake up from the comfort of numbness. There were long, long moments with the unfolding, displaying and refolding of the flag that seemed to stretch out into eternity. Then the military unit played Taps and it really hit her: He is gone. He is not coming back.
She couldn’t have told a soul what it was about the playing of Taps that made it all real to her. It may have been just the lifelong exposure to the song. It may have been simply the fact that Taps is the most mournful tune she had ever heard.
Now the house is empty. The visitors have gone home. The kids have gone home. There are no grandchildren having meltdowns or running up and down the halls.
Her daughters had done all the laundry, and she didn’t know what to do with it. Neatly folded pajamas–the last outfit he had worn–smelled of laundry detergent and fabric softening sheets when all she really wanted to smell were the last smells of him. The aftershave he’d been wearing, the essential odors from his body that she’d grown accustomed to over years of marriage. The sheets and blankets from his bed were already folded away in the linen closet.
She spent a day looking for something the girls might have missed, something that still held his scent. But they’d done a thorough job, and there was nothing left at all.
She sat in his reclining chair until the little dog’s reproachful looks got on her nerves. “I can sit here if I want,” she told the pup who had spent that final day on the bed, only leaving when she needed to go outside and relieve herself. The dog whined. She got out of the chair and sat in her own. Their little pet jumped into her lap and they both sighed extravagantly. Tears stood out brightly in two sets of eyes.
She needed to go through his things.
She went to his office. Finding his camera on the desk top, she wondered about the last photos she might find on the digital storage card. She sat in his chair and stared at the camera. She moved his glasses from one side of it to the other, then put them on her face. Nope. She couldn’t see a thing. She took them off, folded them, placed them beside the camera again. She toyed with a magnifying glass and wondered what he’d been doing with it. It had belonged to her grandfather, once upon a time.
She got up and left the room without checking the camera for photos. She couldn’t bear it, not right now.
No one can tell you about AFTER, she thought. You have to be there, in AFTER, to really get it.
AFTER has sharp teeth. And it bites, over and over.
Even the dog understands that.