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.

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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.