Death For Dummies

I’ve learned a lot about death recently. Well, not death exactly – only those who have died can know what death is – but I have learned way more than I want to know about the practicalities and obligations of those who are left behind. I considered writing a manual, sort of a Death for Dummies, then I realized when a person is caught in that horror, the last thing one wants to do is read a how-to-guide. Besides, one learns soon enough what needs to be done.

My life mate/soul mate of thirty-fours years died at the end of March, and in between unbelievable bouts of pain and agony, I have been dealing with the practical issues. One thing that came as a surprise to me, though it shouldn’t have, is how heavy a person’s ashes are. They are not ashes, actually, which I already knew. (And so would you if you had read Daughter Am I.) What remains are the inorganic compounds – the minerals, the part that was never alive in the first place – and most minerals are heavy. Those in the funeral business don’t call them ashes. They call them cremains. Sheesh. I could do without the cute name. “Ashes,” at least, connote an offering, or perhaps a resurrection of sorts.

A friend – a minister who has had extensive experience with the dying and the bereaved – suggested I keep the ashes, or some of them, anyway. I had never considered it, but since I couldn’t figure out where to scatter them, and didn’t want to go through the trouble of finding out the local laws on the matter, I followed the minister’s advice. And having the urn with me brings a bit of comfort. (Urn is a misnomer, as is so much in the funeral business. The urn is simply a sealed plastic or brass box.)

Another friend sent me this poem:

Support From Others
Author Unknown

Don’t tell me that you understand.
Don’t tell me that you know.
Don’t tell me that I will survive,
How I will surely grow.
Don’t come at me with answers
That can only come from me.
Don’t tell me how my grief will pass,
That I will soon be free.
Accept me in my ups and downs.
I need someone to share.
Just hold my hand and let me cry
And say, “My friend, I care.”

I’d like to make an addition to the poem:

Don’t tell me to “hang in there.”
Makes me wonder: Hang from what? And where?

What meant the most were those who cried with me. Not enough tears had been shed for him – no amount of tears will ever be enough – so those tears gave me comfort. I don’t mean to be maudlin, but this is a trauma – an amputation of sorts – and it shouldn’t pass lightly.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

12 Responses to “Death For Dummies”

  1. spirit2go Says:

    I am so, so sorry for your loss. You and I are sisters now in a terrible club: Widows
    I like the poem, only we who have experienced the loss of our Beloved truly understands.
    Arlene G.

  2. Pat Bertram Says:

    I hope I didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings by including the bit about “hang in there.” Many of you used those very words, and I am truly appreciative of the consolation you offered me, but the wordsmith in me couldn’t pass on the wordplay.

  3. joylene Says:

    During an earlier loss, we tried to cope on our own as a family. Fifteen years later, when we suffered another great loss, I sought counselling partially because I understood what was in store and I wasn’t sure I could cope the second time around. And even then I waited a year before I attended grief counselling.

    Pat, I can’t reiterate enough how comforting it was to be among people in the same situation. We shared, cried together, and understood without words what the other was going through. There was nothing expected of me. And when one was having a particularly bad day, they were able to draw strength from the rest of us. And vise versa.

    It was almost like taking a course. There were assignments and weekly exercises. We used graphs to gauge our recovery. After several months, I looked at my collective graphs and saw that I was heading toward that place where I would and could function again. I didn’t see that the first time around.

    There’s no cure for a broken heart. And everyone copes in their own way. But there are trained counsellors and medications that can ease some of your pain. And there’s writing.

  4. Kat Sheridan Says:

    And yet more tears are shed on your behalf. I’m becoming quite the watering pot! I can’t pretend to understand. I can only say my thoughts and prayers are with you. And Death for Dummies sounds like a dang fine and useful book.

  5. kristen Says:

    I think what you added at the end of the poem is perfect at least for me. Really hit home.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Every time someone said, “Hang in there,” all I could picture was nooses. Not an image you want in your mind when you are trying your best to hang on to a will to live that seems so tenuous. But I knew what they were really saying: “I care.”

  6. Paula Kaye Says:

    I would love to see a book called Death For Dummies…..I would read it now, before I need it and try to muddle my way through all alone

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      To a certain extend, my book “Grief: The Great Yearning” is a primer about death and grief. It tells what I did and thought and felt during that first incredibly horrible year.

      I wouldn’t suggest reading it now, but many people have used it as sort of a companion as they went through that first year. It brings people comfort knowing that others felt what they did.

  7. Amy Says:

    I just googled death for dummies because there should be a book n what you go through with funeral home n legal contracts ur in are unbelievable lets write this book

  8. gracelange Says:

    Hi there, I have loved reading this post about how you now know a little bit more about death. I too have lost a family member very close to me and one of the biggest things that we are struggling with right now is what to do with her ashes. I find it comforting reading about what you have done with your loved ones’ ashes. Thank you for your beautiful words.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      There is no hurry on deciding what to do with the ashes. As difficult as it is to face, they are beyond caring what is done to their remains. The main thing to do is find something you will be comfortable with. Sometimes, scattering the ashes seems like a second death, which is often too much when you are still dealing with their loss. Whatever you do will be the right thing.

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