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.