AND THEN…

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I can’t tell you what happened after I drove away from the Princeton hospital in the middle of the afternoon on May 6 because I don’t remember much about it, other than that I kept swerving erratically as I turned the wheel and was repeatedly honked at.  I suppose I survived because the honkers were also good drivers.  But I did manage to get myself back into my own driveway behind Bill’s red Honda, and then into the house through the garage door, carrying the hospital plastic bag containing everything he had had on when we had checked him in seven days before.  I couldn’t unpack it.  I just put it down.  It was all I had left of him.  It would still smell of him.  And I had to save that until I could cry.

Just then I couldn’t cry.  I sat on the family room sofa to call my two sons to tell them it was over.  They must have said the right things, each in his fashion, but I don’t remember what they said.  Did my voice shake? It must have.  I don’t remember.  Then I must have used Bill’s phone, which had a reduced overseas rate plan, to call his oldest niece in Israel and afterwards his Swiss first wife, mother of his older son, in Geneva.  His niece, who is a psychotherapist, was very kind. I do remember the kindness of her voice, but not her words. It was something about now I had to take care of myself.  His first wife (who speaks English and also likes me) was so matter-of-fact that I actually do remember what she said. It was that she was sorry but after all he had lived a long life, and I had my sons. She also invited me to visit if I ever come to Switzerland.

After that, I must have fed the cats and petted them and petted them.  They knew something was wrong.  Bill hadn’t been home for a week and I was clearly not myself.  They kept rubbing their furry cheeks against me in an unusual display of either affection or distress. I cleaned the litter boxes, and forced myself to drink an Orgain, of which there were over a dozen left in the fridge for Bill.  (Orgain is a somewhat more nutritious, and expensive, version of Ensure, that last nutritional resort for people who have difficulty eating enough).  I was numb.  I put my checkbook in my purse for tomorrow and went upstairs with the sole thought that I had to get some sleep because the next morning I needed to drive to the undertaker, who would have by then removed the body from the hospital — to pay him for having done that and for the cremation that would follow.  We had some old sleeping pills in the bathroom cabinet, but I was afraid to take one, or even half of one, lest I not wake up in time.  I stayed in bed all night, but if I slept I don’t remember it.

The undertaker was professionally solicitous. Sleepless and still in a state of shock, I resented it. He didn’t know me, he didn’t care about me, he was really only interested in my business — which he was going to get anyway because he took care of 90% of the dead in Princeton (as he was quick to assure me when I inquired).  I particularly resented his oily deference and lowered voice when, after obtaining the requisite information for the death certificate, and learning that I had no interest in buying any of his pretentious urns, he informed me that the fee for having removed the body and for the cremation would be $3,000, payable before I left.

Does anyone haggle in such circumstances? Did I really have any viable option?  Deciding it might be more prudent to hold on to cash for the time being, I kept the checkbook out of sight and gave him a credit card in payment.  My mother’s identical cremation in Palm Springs, California, sixteen years earlier, had cost slightly over $300.  I asked him what he charged people who couldn’t afford the fee.  He said if they could prove they were being supported by the state, there was a reduced price, which they could pay in installments.  He also said because his establishment was in the center of town and he needed a lot of space in back for mourners to park, his real estate taxes were very high. He was sure an educated, professional woman such as myself would understand.

The educated professional woman who was allegedly myself didn’t understand much at that point, but she did understand that in a money economy, everything costs.  Even dying.  However, she didn’t have time to brood about it.  There were many other things to attend to.  I had to finalize Bill’s affairs. As important, or even more so, I needed to decide what to do about the condo, which was both too big and too expensive for me to maintain by myself past the end of 2016.  The best time to try to sell it was soon, because people with young children who were looking to buy in Princeton wanted to do it in time to register those children in the Princeton public schools before the beginning of the school year.  So if I were going to sell, I had to get it staged and on the market by early July.  But first, I had to get myself back in shape to function.

Easier said than done.  Bill died on a Friday.  By the following Monday, I felt — felt physically, in my nearly 85 year-old body — as if I might be dying too.

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45 thoughts on “AND THEN…

  1. It is so good to hear from you. I have seen you around. I am glad you are writing again. This was a vulnerable time for any one. It sure sounds like he gouged you but I don’t know. I’m hoping this is a series and we’ll learn more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Kate. I hope to keep posting. I’m still in the process of moving into a new place, so I don’t know how regular it will be at first, but the blog was an important part of my life when Bill was getting sick and sicker, and I expect it may be an even more important part now that I’m essentially on my own. I’ve been in the new digs for a month, but the sofa isn’t here yet, the new blinds aren’t hung, I’m still finding my way around. But I’ve got a fair amount of catching up to cover the last five months, so there shouldn’t be a shortage of material. 🙂

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  2. That’s a rough time in anyone’s life. From my vantage point, I would have haggled over the price of pick up and cremation.
    But they got you when you were vulnerable. (and they know that) You need some time to recoup. God bless.
    Leslie

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    • Thanks, Leslie, for the God bless. But as I’m sure you know, haggling about price is best done before the job is begun, not halfway through. It’s hard to haggle over the price of something that’s already partly accomplished. You have no leverage, other than to demand the body back! (And what would I have done with it, if he had said I could take it and begone with me!) Moreover, this fellow had a near-complete monopoly on undertaking in Princeton, so there really wasn’t any competition to which I could have taken my “business.”

      However, all this occurred on May 7, more than five months ago. I’ve had time to recover somewhat — maybe not quite enough time, but enough to begin writing about it. Thanks too for reading.

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  3. I repeat Kate’s thought that it’s good to hear from you. I know you lost Bill this past summer, but I’m glad that you are writing about it. I hope you’re doing OK.

    In 2009 my sister’s cremation cost $3K as well (in Cleveland). Perhaps there are price controls …

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    • Thanks for responding so promptly, Elyse.

      Interesting about the cost seven years ago in Cleveland. But price controls in Palm Springs? I doubt it. A smaller market perhaps. Or more competition among undertakers. As for me, I’m doing “okay,” meaning I’ve accomplished everything I had to accomplish. But have I stopped missing him a lot? Every day? No, I haven’t. It may be delayed sorrow. I was so busy for four months after he died, that much of the experience of grief may have been put off until I had time to really grasp what’s gone forever. Well, that’s a subject for another day, or days…

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      • I know. It’s a long process. And I don’t really think you get over — you get through. But you never stop missing somebody and to me that’s a good thing. I don’t want to stop thinking about the folks I’ve lost. Because then they’d really be gone.

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    • Thank you for your empathy. At some point though, many of us have to go through something like this. After all, in every couple, one dies first. Is it better to live always alone, and spare oneself this kind of pain? I can only speak for myself, but for me the answer can only be no.

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  4. So sad that you were alone that night and the next day. It’s hard enough to deal with a loved one’s death and all the decisions that must be made afterward without having no one to lean on except the cats. Although animals do, in fact, understand more about grief than we realize. If I were to find myself in a similar situation, I know my dog would be there for extra hugs.

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    • Well, it is what it is, Cordelia. In these days of dispersed nuclear families, I suspect more than a few survivors of a couple deal with it alone. The decisions didn’t really bother me so much. I was a lawyer before I retired, and practical stuff was, in a way, a relief and a distraction. So it wasn’t so much that I needed someone to lean on. I needed someone to hug me. I still do. Unfortunately, we don’t ever get the past back.

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  5. Thank you for writing, Nina. Your words move me as they always have. You continue to share your wisdom about “Getting Old”, and we continue to benefit. There is no doubt that you have encountered much pain but we reap the rewards of your courage to share. Sending you metta.

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    • Thank you so much, Nancy. I don’t know about “wisdom.” I just put down how things look to me at the time of writing. But I’m glad you continue to read what I write. That’s the reward for me.

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    • Oh boy, do they! The next four months of my life were all about “practical matters.” Was it reassuring? Well, if you’re like me you address them and delay the grief as much as you can for a quieter time. I suppose some other people may yield to the emotional upheaval and feel helpless to deal with anything else, either because of lack of experience or distress so overwhelming as to be incapacitating. But in my case, the dealing with all that was a kind of relief. Deep sorrow seems to be erupting in all its fullness only now, when I am again more or less “settled” in abode and finances and the practical matters have been addressed. Although we’re all the same in our humanity, each of us is different in how we respond to what happens to us, especially where, as with me and Bill, it was in some ways unexpected.

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    • Thank you so much, Shimon. It’s hard right now to get interested in writing about anything else. So “these experiences” it will have to be, at least for a while. I’m glad to learn my account has readers, despite being something of a downer.

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  6. Hard to tick ‘like’ on a post like this one, Nina – it’s not the right word, is it? Your writing brings home your pain and desolation, and I feel for you. The changes you’re going through in your life are enormous, emotionally, psychologically, and logistically too.

    I related very much to your drive home. I had the only car accident I have ever had on my way home from my father’s funeral. I know what it is to be there, but not there.

    Be well, and know that even those of us who don’t know you face-to-face, cherish you in the ether.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It has indeed been a life-changer, Julie. If it weren’t so trite, I would have begun this first post after so long a break with the caption “Starting Over.” You put it so well when you say, about your drive home after your father’s funeral, surviving the death of someone you love very much is being “there, but not there.” Thank you so much for your last sentence, too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I suppose it’s easy to say “Life isn’t easy,” and many of us have said it, including me. It’s harder to live. But we all go through something painful at one time or another. Thank you for reading, and for your comment.

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  7. It’s good to hear from you! I can empathize about undertakers haveing to do the same for my brother when he died. Years ago I did a paper in school about this industry and they are a den of thieves. You can’t breathe for they’ll charge you for the air.

    Take care of yourself… jc

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, JC. And yes, funeral directors — such a fancy term for “undertakers” — can charge what the traffic will bear because the traffic will bear a lot; customers for what they have to sell are pretty much over a barrel. You can’t really shop around at such a time. You can reject fancy and overpriced caskets and urns, but you can’t not have the body removed from the hospital or the deathbed. As for taking care of myself, I am trying. You take care of yourself too.

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  8. Your expression of grief and loss is numbing, as was your writing of the day bill died. I’ve never forgotten your words. May God bless his soul and give you the strength to live with this loss.

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    • You are very kind, George. What I’ve been learning from this experience, and from meeting other people in bereavement groups who are going through something similar, is that most of us find enough strength within ourselves to cope with what life throws at us, even if we didn’t think (to use a cliche) we had it in us. I do appreciate your words and good wishes.

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  9. It’s so nice to see a post from you, Nina. You are going through such huge changes, and I do hope that you blog about all of it when you can. I agree with Kate that what you paid for the cremation sounds awfully high. Take care of yourself. — Marty

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    • Thank you, Marty, for the welcome back and for the kind words. As for the price of — if I may put it this way — disposing of the remains of our dead, there are really no alternatives. You’re stuck — either with the price or the body. In any event, and in any situation, one should pick one’s battles, as I’m sure you know. This just wasn’t one of them. However, I did think it might be interesting to write about.

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  10. Rita

    My dear friend…I was so happy to see you back on the blog again. At certain ages, loss is the name of the game, sad to say. I have five friends who have lost spouses in the past 2 years…its a club that we survivors wish we didn’t have to be members of. Some of them are upset that they didn’t go first, so that they didn’t have to go through the experience
    you so eloquently write about….unfortunately, one can’t pick and choose. You both honor Bill and bring him to all of
    us by your writing…so keep at it. Love, Rita

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    • Hi dear friend…I’m not upset I didn’t go first. I think Bill would have found surviving me even harder than the past five and a half months have been for me. Perhaps it would be ideal to disappear from life together, holding hands, if you both had the guts to do that. But which of you would decide when was the right time? And would the other agree, or be quite ready? So leaving the world of fantasy, I’m glad to hear you suggest that my writing can be, in a way, holding Bill here — instead of “gone,” a word now so mysterious to me it’s still hard to wrap my mind around it. I will try to keep at it.

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  11. I came across your blog after binge watching Gran Hotel…then binge googling for more insights. I loved your piece in the show and was inspired by your writing style. I’m a writer in my brain…but boy, I suck at it in real life.
    Sorry, back to my whole point- after reading this, you really touched all kinds of emotions in me. I felt like I wanted to come over, sit with you over a cup or tea, or bottle of bourbon and hear more….and tell you my story as well. You made me see it all, I felt it, and feel like I know you. Beautiful, painful, real, sweet, scary and hopeful. Thank you for this blog. You’ve got another fan. Would you like to run for President please??? – regards, Claire

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  12. Telling us how this experience was for you is an extraordinary kindness, because this will help all of us, who at some time in our lives will have to face this. It is all to often a subject that you have to face alone and without any prior preparation, so i salute your courage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Hilary. If it’s instructive, I’m glad. However, I wouldn’t call it courage. We do what we have to do, when there’s no one else to do it. Maybe it looks like courage afterwards, but at the time, it’s just putting one foot in front of another. I suppose the alternative is total collapse, but I tend to do the collapsing after everything that really needs doing is done. 😉

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