Aside from going to the hospital to say goodbye to my husband for the very last time, picking up his death certificates and ashes from the funeral home is probably one of the weirdest, most surreal experiences I have ever had.
After receiving the call from the funeral director, I drove my car over the bridge and turned into the funeral home parking lot. I sat there for a few minutes before stepping out because I still couldn’t believe this moment was truly happening. There are simply no words to describe how I felt. Disbelief? Disappointment? Disgust? Maybe. I don’t know. All I know is that it had all come to this. The End. How could this be? Day after day, for over thirty-eight years, I have loved this man. I knew every inch of his body.
The parts of his head where hair refused to grow, which is why he decided to go bald in the first place.
The red moles on his skin that I thought were so weird because I had never seen red moles before until I met him.
The burn mark on the back of his right hand from touching a hot iron as a baby.
The tattoo of my name, complete with roses and a spider web, on his chest.
The scar on the lower right side of his stomach from the kidney transplant.
The road rash on his legs from two motorcycle accidents.
The way his skin color instantly got lighter at the tan line above his ankles down to his feet because he wore socks all the time, even in the summer and to bed.
All those years of knowing someone so intimately, up close and personal, were about to come to an end with me walking out carrying them in a box.
Although it was September, nine days after my 54th birthday to be exact, the sun was hot. I took a deep, shaky breath, got out of the air-conditioned car, and walked towards the front doors.
“How the hell do I do this?” I asked out loud to no one.
It’s sort of like walking into a job interview that you haven’t prepared for. Your mind is racing, and your palms are sweaty. Except with interviews, you can Google what to do minutes before and still be somewhat prepared. Nothing can prepare you for widowhood at fifty-four and picking up your husband’s cremains in a box.
“I know what I’ll do”, I said, trying to hype myself up before putting my hand on the door pull. “I’ll stand tall, put my shoulders back, and walk in there with my head held high.” It seemed like the only way to proceed.
When I entered the funeral home, there was a family of five already sitting and waiting in the lobby. They glanced up at me when I came through the door and then continued talking among themselves. Rickey, a member of the staff, walked over and greeted me. He spoke softly, almost in a whisper and with an empathetic tone. I suppose it was his way of keeping things as private as possible since there were other guests within earshot. It annoyed me.
“Just get on with it”, I wanted to scream at him. But I didn’t.
He disappeared for a few seconds down the hallway and came back with an envelope and a box. He set them on the counter. Ms. Veola, the receptionist, was peering at me sympathetically. I always thought she had kind eyes whenever I went there to make funeral arrangements for other family members. On this day, I didn’t like her eyes. I felt vulnerable and exposed. Her seeing me in this much pain was too much even though I knew she saw people racked with the pain of losing a loved one all the time in her line of work.
“Here’s Mr. Willis”, Rickey said as he pulled the black and gold urn out of the box.
The way he said it still haunts me. There was no denying it. It was in fact Mr. Willis because there was his full name, date of birth, and date of death permanently engraved forever right there on the urn. There was even a plastic Ziplock bag with his name written in black sharpie that held extra ashes because all of it couldn’t fit into the urn. Even though my sons and I had chosen a beautiful urn, it still hurt like hell to see it. An entire lifetime reduced to fit inside this container. And it was indeed my husband inside of it.
As soon as I saw Frank’s name, I lost it. I completely lost it. The pep talk I had just given myself outside the funeral home went right out the window. I grabbed at my chest and said, “Oh, my heart can’t take it.” I immediately started crying, and I felt myself getting hot. The other guests began looking at me, too, so I excused myself and hurried down the hallway towards the restroom, still clutching my chest. I collapsed on the floor in the handicap stall and cried my eyes out. I guess I must have stayed in there too long because Ms. Veola came in to check on me. When I came out of the stall, Ms. Veola hugged me and told me she was sorry. I thanked her, splashed some water on my face, and walked out of the restroom.
Back at the reception desk, I thanked Rickey, picked up the envelope and box and was surprised when my arm jolted because the box was heavier than I expected. Rickey offered to take the box out to the car for me, but I declined and said I should be the one to do it. I put the urn beside me in the passenger seat and burst into tears again from all the memories of Frank sitting there happy and content to let me drive wherever we were going. He stopped liking to drive after being a truck driver for so many years and would quickly toss me the keys every chance he got.
“Well, babe, you don’t have to worry about driving now”, I said through sobs to the urn. “Hope you don’t mind riding with me to finish running these errands.”
I pulled out of the funeral home parking lot and drove off. Just me and my husband in a box.
What about you? What has been your experience with cremation or picking up your spouse’s ashes? Let me know in the comments.
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