Death and other mysteries

Well the inevitable has come to pass, and our old family friend is no more. We got a panic stricken call from his wife on Monday night and went haring off into town to support her. As it happened she was just having ‘A little moment’ and just needed some fellow grown ups to talk to. The actual final blow fell on Tuesday afternoon, when Mrs S and I were summoned by his wife to the hospital, where he was headed down the final furlong of life. His lungs were finally giving up the ghost, and there was nothing more that could be done for him.

I’ve seen people die up close and personal a number of times, including close relatives, but it’s always a rough emotional ride. Seeing once vibrant and alive people transformed into inert waxen husks. No matter how many times you watch people succumb to the entropy of existence, it always gets to you. The swelling tautness in your own throat and chest, the tears that won’t come because you’ve seen it all before and you know people are relying on you to be the strong one.

To cut to the chase; after a brief discussion with the Hospital medical staff, it was agreed that the man we had known no longer inhabited the fleshly shell currently gasping for each tiny sip of air. The oxygen was turned off, and we said our final goodbyes. I tried to take our friends hand for one final handshake, but there was no response, but I bid him “God speed” all the same, and watched for a while as his breathing grew ever more uncertain and ragged. I’d hate to think the last thing he heard on this Earth was impersonal gossip. Better a friendly familiar voice than the disassociated concern of medical professionals. If there is a life beyond our short traipse across this window in time, a kind word or wish, I hope, may make the transition easier.

At his widows request we left before the final denouement and I stepped out of the Hospital entrance to see a glorious full arc rainbow, as though something were trying to say “That’s it. The tough bit is over. It’s okay.” It was a day of rainbows, which I normally consider favourable portents, but not that Tuesday.

Fifteen minutes later the phone call to say he was dead came from the hospital. His widow smiled a little to know his suffering was finally over. She’d done her real crying the night before, when she realised this was it. Now all we felt was a small lifting of a choking cloud of uncertainty. She bid me clear out his basement workshop, and I did my best; packing box after box of tools and gadgets. Mrs S kept a steady flow of that great English panacea, Tea, going. I swear, if the apocalypse came and the world was in ruins, you would still find real English people sitting on a barren waste waiting for the kettle to boil with a smile and a “Cheer up. You’re still breathing!”

We laid out a timetable for Wednesday, and today has been spent running errands for our newly widowed friend. Making arrangements to get her into a nice care home where she will have company, and the grim reaper has a more genteel and studied touch. Funeral arrangements to make. Fielding phone calls from tearful relatives, which ironically made the Widow cheer up. “She was worse than I was.” I heard her comment about one particular friend, who had phoned from Nova Scotia and had hysterics when handed the news of our friends demise.

There was a stove (cooker) to fix. The central heating had sprung a leak, and there are still forms to fill in. Always forms to fill in. Annuities to transfer, Service Canada to notify. Service BC to talk to. The blandishments of smoothly practised sales people at the funeral home to resist. Did you know they made steel coffins? I didn’t until today. Title of assets to be transferred. Lawyers to be reminded. Fortunately I haven’t had any serious work to do for the past couple of days, so we could spare time to help out.

My penultimate task in this little drama is the formal identification of the body prior to cremation. The legal niceties must be observed, and the tax man takes HST on it all. Death and Taxes together. The irony clangs. At the request of his widow, there will be no service or memorial. Donations to charity, and keep the flowers in your gardens.

I did ask her if I might write an obituary for him, but she said no, and I must respect that. Apparently there are vultures in human form who trawl the obituary columns and prey on the newly bereaved, so my friend will cross to eternity without public recognition. I find that very sad for a man who has had such an eventful life. He should be remembered, but as his Widow insisted “All the people who needed to know about him know.” I conceded, and we owe him that final discretion.

I will be busy for a while.

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