In the Presence of Death…

When one is dealing with the dying or the very old, one ends up having some strange discussions. The most bizarre conversation came about on Tuesday afternoon. The hospice social worker was here to discuss various matters and to bring us current on the procedures hospice has already taken care of and to let us know what they will doing in the future.

To me, one of the greatest benefits of hospice is that no matter what happens or what you need, there is but a single phone call to make — to hospice. Hospice does the rest. The social worker reminded me of this and said to notify them when my father was gone, and they will call the designated mortuary and arrange for the body to be picked up.

RIPI knew hospice performed that service, of course, but this is where things got weird. “Since this is a private home and not an institution,” the social worker said, “according to the law, the mortuary has up to a week to collect the body.”

“A week?” I all but shrieked. It seemed impossible that a body could be allowed to remain in a private residence for so long. At the very least, it has to be insanitary. “But what do we do about . . . ?” Since my father was sitting right there, I didn’t want to put my concerns into words, but the woman understood I was referring to smells and decomposition.

“There shouldn’t be a problem for a week,” she said. “Just close his door. If you’re worried, you can always pack ice around the limbs. That will help.”

My first thought was relief that we have so many gel-packs stored away. My second thought was a bit of macabre humor: so my father is lying there, ice packs around his slowly decomposing body. And what would I do? Go to dance class, of course.

I truly doubt I’ll have to deal with a body in the house for a week. When my mother died, this same mortuary arrived within three hours, even though they are 121 miles away. But yes, if my father lay here dead for a week, I would continue with my dance classes.

It makes sense, of course. My presence would have no effect on him, he would have no need of my help, and there wouldn’t be much for me to do since another sister is in charge of funeral arrangements. But still, the thought of dancing with a dead body in the house does seem a bit coldhearted, and I’m sure people would be appalled.

And yet . . . when else should one dance? If dancing is life, and life is dancing, then it is in the presence of death that we need dance the most.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram 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.

8 Responses to “In the Presence of Death…”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Sounds like sound advice. I also have some macabre humor, if you’d like it.

  2. Paula Kaye Says:

    I cannot believe that anyone would want to leave a dead body in their house beyond a few hours. But there are lots of stranger things, I guess.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It certainly would not be my choice to leave the body there. It’s a matter of when the mortuary folk would come pick him up. They have a week to get to the house after they have been notified. Very bizarre.

  3. Carol Paul Says:

    i too have care of two parents….one, mother has been in hospice for 1 year….(93) and i too love hospice….everything about it….my RN ,the shower aid , the social worker , the chaplain and anyone i forgot…..i too talked about when the time comes i will be waiting for one sister to arrive who lives 2 hrs away ….i too want this to be a quite special time and i was told by the mortuary that i have about 12 hours before there is any suspect to why i haven’t called them…so i have milk cartons frozen and small bags for around the body so as to keep the body cold….i also want to wash the body and have a ceremony so i have copal to burn….i appreciate your blog and the idea that you will dance is sooooo lovely ……peace….

  4. Carol Wuenschell Says:

    Thank goodness my mom only had to wait an hour or two.

    But when death is a relief, or at least not a cause for grief, by all means, dance.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      My father’s death will be vastly different for me than my soulmate’s death. My father has lived a very long, healthy, secure, and happy life. There’s no real tragedy to such an end.

  5. charlene leatherman Says:

    The macabre is sometimes the best thing. When my soul-mate died, my son and I were waiting for the mortuary, my son asked what movie I wanted to watch to pass the time. My choice, Zombie Land. Yes, in the face of death we can be macabre.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Wonderful choice of movie! And it’s good you weren’t alone. What I did while I waited for the mortuary to come for my soulmate’s body was simply sit. Well, first I got on the internet and let a few people know, and then I sat. Didn’t really know what else to do.

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