In the Closet
By ROY PETER CLARK
Two days after her husband died of AIDS, Jane tried to write in her journal. But all she could get out was two words and a date: "Mick died 3/3/93." The numbers fascinated her. He died on the third day of the third month of the decade's third year.
Jane was the kind of person who didn't believe in chance or accident. She looked for meaning in everything. To keep sane, she had to find some ultimate meaning in her husband's death.
She remembered the moment he died. How a terrible smell filled her nostrils and followed her out onto the front porch. How her son David put his strong arm around her. "Just take deep breaths, Mom," he said as her body heaved.
"David, I think your father just died."
Uncle Ralph and Aunt Joan rushed into Mick's room in time to see what looked like one final breath.
The next hours were a blur. Mick's Hospice nurse arrived and helped with the preparation of the body. Toward midnight, two friendly gentlemen dressed in blue coveralls arrived, placed Mick's body in a bag, wheeled it onto a truck and took it for cremation.
Jane had once thought to conduct a private memorial service for Mick in Michigan. She phoned his older brother Larry in Fennville to discuss the idea. His response angered Jane. He told her that the family wanted to put all this behind them.
"Put all this behind you?" she thought to herself, crying and crying. She remembered all she had been through. There was no way she could put all this behind her.
That's when she decided to conduct the service in Florida. It would be held where Mick died -- in the house of Uncle Ralph and Aunt Joan. The children would attend, and Jane's mother, and their good friends the Timmers from Michigan, and Mick's sisters, and his younger brother Denny from Texas, and Jane's friend Carol Ann, and some of Mick's former students.
Uncle Ralph went to the crematorium, picked up Mick's ashes and brought them to the house. They were in a plastic bag, placed in a cardboard box about the size of a shoe box. Ralph was impressed with the weight of Mick's remains. How different from the almost insubstantial feel of Mick's body during those final weeks and days.
Uncle Ralph worried about where to put Mick's ashes until the service. In the bedroom? On the coffee table? In the garage? Aunt Joan could only laugh at his discomfort.
Friends and family gathered at the house on Saturday morning, March 7. Jane wrote the words of the service on a yellow legal pad, in a careful elegant hand.
"This may be the most unusual memorial service any of us will ever attend," she read. "But I felt it was extremely important that we have a service. A service helps facilitate the healing process, and it will help us fully recognize the end of Mick's life on earth."
She thanked everyone for coming, with special loving recognition to Uncle Ralph and Aunt Joan for taking care of Mick.
"Many of you know our life was one of many changes and moves. Life is full of moving days. We move not only from one house to another, but from one phase of life to another, from career to career, and from awareness to awareness. Sometimes crossing those thresholds can be a sticky passage and full of anguish. And it is this anguish, awareness & faith that has gotten us through these last few years and days."
She then addressed each of her children: "Your Dad cared very deeply for you," and described how his best qualities, a love of language, travel, music, sports, could be seen in each one of them. "He gave you so much."
Victor Baez spoke up. He had been Mick's student in Brazil. With emotion in his voice, he exhorted the gathering to remember all the good things Mick had done for them. "He cared about me," said Victor. "He cared about all his students."
Jane then narrated Mick's final moments, how she had given him permission to die: "Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has been a great inspiration to me. I have tried to read as much as I can of her work. One thing she stresses is sometimes we have to let the patient know it's okay to go now. Especially if there is guilt, or a sense of not accomplishing what needs to be finished....This is how it was for your dad."
Everyone in the room knew of Mick's reticent nature. There was so much that he did not say. But at least he died knowing that his family would be all right.
Jane would think often about what was left unsaid. She would recall a conversation she had with Debbie, Mick's youngest sister, for whom he always showed a special fondness.
Debbie had called him from Fennville, the day before he died. "I didn't expect to talk with him," she remembers. "I was surprised when Joan put him on." Mick told her not to come to Florida. Debbie did her best not to get emotional. "At the end, he told me he loved me. I told him I loved him. That was probably the only time it was ever said."
Jane told Debbie that she was happy for her. "I'm glad you had the chance to hear him say it," said Jane. "Because he never said it to me."
After the memorial service, Jane could not decide what to do with Mick's ashes. She carried them from the house back to her apartment. She brought them into her bedroom, put them on the floor of her closet, next to about 20 pairs of shoes, and closed the closet door.
THE SERIES: This is the 27th installment of a 29-part story.