How one NYT bestselling author deals with grief and loss as it happens. Read to know you’re not alone.
In the aftermath of death, she ferries ashes across town.
She doesn’t feel a thing. The cardboard box is nothing more than a package hastily ordered via an app. Tape pristine. No fingerprints or creases. She admires the crematorium logo as she shoves the load into the car.
At her sprawling destination, she parks the Fiat in the sun. Says hi to Tom, who always offers the best lopsided smile from his motorized wheelchair. She even stops to squeeze his good hand.
“I’ve got this,” she thinks and signs in at the counter. Hurries up one flight of steps. She ignores the echoes in the long hallway.
I don’t like this place. I’m going to die here.
The stench overwhelms her as soon as she opens the apartment door. A wingback chair blocks the entry. She shimmies around it, determined to tackle the kitchen first.
Because nobody died in the kitchen.
She focuses on the shelf of smiley faces, a credo in mugs and vases and beanie toys. Under the circumstances, their smiles are demonic, hideous, a threat.
She darts into the bedroom to escape their gaze. The body is still there. On the floor. Not in the cardboard box, sealed with clean tape. Why didn’t they take the body away?
Tears are tricksters. They distort. They reveal.
She realizes it’s only a soiled clump of sheets and pillows and towels. A deathbed shroud abandoned and preserved for over two weeks. The shape of a body. The lingering smells. That accusing voice seeps through the stark thread count.
You brought me here to die.
A sheet conceals us. Protects us. Preserves sweat and snot and skin. Leavings to haunt the living.
She is still crying when she locks herself in her condo. She sits at her desk scattered with paperwork. The looming administration of the aftermath of death. The tasks we impose to rub the noses of the grieving into the stain of loss.
She picks up a card. And another. She didn’t expect to get even one, because emojis are so much more efficient. But she can’t find those emojis now.
They’re lost in the firehose of nonsense in her various newsfeeds. How many posts will stab her in the heart before she finds the snippets of comfort she needs? So she runs her fingertips over ink and paper. Solid remnants of real souls.
And she feels less alone.
The feeling doesn’t last. She spends two days cleaning out the balance of another life. Showing an upbeat face because nobody can handle a crying woman. Being strong, because everyone wants to see that you’ve dealt with your shit. They don’t want to wallow with you, especially not when they have stinking piles of their own.
In the aftermath of death, she dresses up. Paints her face. Coifs her hair. And goes out on the town.
“So you’ve been carousing around the world! Isn’t that great! You’re living the life! Great to see you!”
And she feels like that Bozo the Clown blow-up doll, the one kids punch in the big red nose over and over and over and over and over.
Because if she says, “Well, I actually just spent two days cleaning out my dead aunt’s apartment,” she will be the asshole. People never give hall passes for grief. Or sickness. Or anything really. No, they say we show who we really are in our lowest moments. And in the last three years, she’s used up her lifetime quota of lowest moments.
So she smiles and says, “Yes! I live the life!” And waits for her head to snap from another frontal assault. She sees more people she knows and hides to keep from having a fresh Bozo conversation. She vows to avoid everyone until she leaves town again.
But there’s the walk-through. Keys to return. Probate court looms.
“Do you have the death certificate?” Bored face. “Oh yeah, sorry for your loss.”
She wishes she’d saved those soiled sheets. She wants to wrap up in them. Cocoon. Disappear. Use them as armor, because she isn’t strong enough to be who everyone expects her to be. But tomorrow morning, she will wake up. Smile. Tackle her paperwork. Do her job. Sign forms. Accept sorry for your losses. Read her cards until they fray.
And somehow, she’ll make herself be okay.
Originally published at https://andrawatkins.com on July 15, 2019.