[An excerpt from Christopher Nyerges’ book, “Til Death Do Us Part?” (from Kindle or the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.)]
Dolores [Christopher’s wife] had died 3 days earlier, and in accordance with her wishes, I kept her body (after it had been cleaned and wrapped) in the home. The room where she was kept had become a makeshift shrine in the last three days.
On Friday, December 12, we powwowed in the morning to decide the next course of action. I’d found a place to do the cremation as Dolores wished. I was about to use a well-known company, and received a phone call at a timely moment about another lesser-known company that provided the same service at half the cost. Indeed, this phone call saved “us” a thousand dollars. I am sure that Dolores would have been happy to save money on her own cremation. In fact, she and I often lamented the fact that we couldn’t (legally) just be buried in our own backyard, or set up a funeral rack or cremation rack like the Indians of the Plains did a few hundred years back.
I made all the arrangements with this more economical company, and explained that Dolores had died on Tuesday and was still at home. They told me that they would not do anything until after the County Coroner was called, following all legal protocol. So, I planned to have as many friends at the house as possible once I called 911 – which was how the procedure started. I wanted to have good support once the police and the others arrived. I was told that I should also be prepared for the possibility of being arrested, since this was definitely not the legal protocol for dealing with death. Before noon, Marilyn, Prudence, Julie, and Victor assembled. I called 911, and explained the situation. My heart was pounding. I said, “Please do not come with sirens blaring. Dolores has been dead three days.” “OK,” I was assured.
Within 10 minutes, the circus began as paramedics and police arrived. I had propped open the front gate and door so they could all just come in and out at will. A female police office stood around and observed while five or six paramedics filed in and out of the bathroom to examine Dolores. Marilyn represented herself as my minister, and she took a lot of pressure off of me as I was being questioned. It turned out that Marilyn actually knew the police officer’s commanding officer through some of her community work. Marilyn was incredibly helpful.
The fire department investigator first spoke to me for about 45 minutes, trying to fit my responses into the boxes on his form. “This is very unusual,” he kept saying. “We haven’t seen a case like this for a very long time.” But he was very interested in what we all did to preserve the body. “How did you know how to do all that?” he asked with genuine curiosity. “Was it some sort of Egyptian thing?” he asked, apparently referring to ancient Egyptians’ practice of mummification.
“We just did it,” I told him. “We just proceeded step by step, trying to fulfill Dolores’ wishes in the best way we knew how.” I told him that we had never done anything like this before, but we knew about the preservative qualities of Aloe, and we just did what made the most sense, and watched the results.
Next, the police officer asked me the same questions, but she seemed a bit more suspicious than the fire department investigator. But after awhile, she told me that foul play had been ruled out and they decided there was no need to remove Dolores’ body to the coroner downtown. There was no need for an autopsy. I was free to call the mortuary to remove Dolores’ body for cremation, and they all left by 2 p.m.
Prudence and Marilyn were stunned by this, pointing out how unprecedented that was to not remove the body for some autopsy, especially under such unusual circumstances. And yet, we also knew that Dolores’ wishes were being fulfilled as there would be no unnecessary cutting up of her body.
Interestingly, Dolores’ death certificate says day of death is December 12, which is the date the coroner inspected the body, not the day she actually died.
I then called the mortuary that I’d arranged to do the cremation. Within 30 minutes, two very polite black-tied men arrived and carefully removed Dolores from her three-day resting place “shrine.” They placed her on a gurney and wheeled her away as I said my last tearful goodbyes, with Nellie by my side wagging her tail.
Nellie ran around pensively, and I wondered what Nellie was aware of and if she sensed Dolores’ passing. (Nellie was the little dog that Dolores was boarding as part of her dog-boarding business).
Suddenly the house was empty. I was exhausted and I wasn’t going to jail. Dolores was gone. I sat for awhile and stared out the window at the tall dead lamb’s quarter plants that attracted sparrows who ate the seeds. I felt tired, empty, but I liked looking at the little birds who found food where there appeared to be none.
I wondered to myself, now what? What will I do with the rest of my life? I ‘d grown so close to Dolores as a friend. I had developed so much respect for her, and saw her as a near-saint, and I had felt absolutely honored to work with her, to assist her, and to be a part of her life. Now I stared into the void. My own void. Emptiness. Life without Dolores.
After awhile, Fikret came over and offered to drive me to the post office, one of my well-known daily rituals. He sensed that I could use a rest, and he said I shouldn’t be driving. We talked about mundane things and occasionally about Dolores. I could tell he wanted me to be happy.
Time took on a different element. Fikret and I went to a restaurant, and I realized I was eating slowly because once I finished eating, I would have to get up and make some decisions about going somewhere else and doing something else. That sounds ridiculous now, but time took on a wholly different nature. I wasn’t sure who I was. I was no longer sure what was my driving force in my day to day world. In fact, I looked around at things a lot that day. It was the first time I’d been out without the pressure of worrying about Dolores’ well-being. The world was a different place. Everything was the same, but everything was different. It seems very foreign to even try to describe it.