by Tamsin J. Newton
Marilyn Allen Pulsipher (81) died on the morning of January 2, 2010, following a heart attack. She is survived by her husband of more than 62 years, 11 of her 12 children, her 34 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. One particular grandchild, Anne Barbara Pulsipher (18), spent the majority of January 2 gadding with her friends at the local cinema. She didn’t find out about the death until that night at 7:23. She heard the news from her younger brother, Samuel Hale Pulsipher (14), who was uncharacteristically tactful in his delivery:
Sam, where are Mom and Dad?
I didn’t mention it earlier because you were with your friends, but they’re with Grandpa because, well, Grandma passed away.
Tactful, but not specific. For a moment Anne’s heart flipped, flopped, and spasmed in all ways that connote shock and terror equally mixed, topped with a sprig of denial.
No, not Grandma Hale! We saw her just last week. She was fine. How?
No, not Grandma Hale. Grandma Pulsipher.
Oh. Relief, what relief, what cruel, biased relief . . . then, How did she die?
She was sick. Had the flu or something. Maybe something with her heart. Unexpected. Big surprise.
Long pause. No need to declare a moment of silence; the moment seized it. They both searched for the appropriate declaration of sorrow. But Anne couldn’t seem to find it. She searched her heart, a muscle well-honed in melodramatic emoting, but found nothing like the sensitivity this situation called for. In her brain she found cobwebs where some traces of regret fluttered, but they were mostly selfish and would disgrace the waxen figure that once bore the spark of a good woman. Ultimately, the only appropriate dregs were empty facts:
I thought for sure Grandpa Pulsipher would go first. His heart condition . . .
Yeah, guess not.
Anne’s and Sam’s monosyllables echoed dully around the room. It was good their father was away mourning appropriately. As the echo died, Anne spent the next few moments dealing with the still niggling issue of how to manage her absence of expected feelings, but Anne’s mind, never fond of wearisome introspection, tired of the attempt and dropped it into her deep mental well of things to feel. Then Anne and her brothers, the aforementioned Sam and also Jonathan Michael Pulsipher (21), spent the rest of the night eating Wendy’s crispy chicken sandwiches and playing board games.
Beloved cat Roy Pulsipher (7 human years) died sometime either during the night of June 12, 2009, or the morning of June 13, 2009, following a collision with a motor vehicle. Though no witnesses could be found—the car having fled—the blood spatter indicated that a brush on his left side threw Roy to the pavement, where he died upon impact. His body was found in the morning by the pole-thin and rather tremulous Logan Jensen (14), a friend of Samuel Hale Pulsipher. The body was cold by the time of discovery, but the presence of rain could have sped up the cooling process, and therefore time of death remained impossible to determine. Anne Barbara Pulsipher heard about the death around eight o’clock that morning when her mother woke her up.
Annie, Roy is dead.
Anne shot out of bed, very unusually instantly awake. Her mother’s tone had a previously unknown touch of quavering violin that sang true, and Roy’s accustomed space to the left of Anne’s pillow was empty save for several coarse brown hairs.
He was hit by a car. Full vibrato now.
Does Sam know? How is Sam?
He’s preparing to bury him with Dad. They’re waiting under the tree house. Let’s go join them.
Anne spent the rest of the day dipping in and out of awareness. It rained all day.
I can barely remember how we came to have Roy. He just sort of tumbled out of a series of impulsive decisions. Sam, several days before his seventh birthday, requested a kitten. Maybe I wasn’t actively involved in the debate, but I rather thought that a kitten was out of the question. After all, we already had one cat: my cat, my beloved Misty. And Misty is a very possessive animal. She certainly wouldn’t be likely to let some hotspur kitten integrate peacefully into her family. Essentially, Misty owned my family. It was best to bow to her will.
Which is why my parents and I were concerned over Sam’s insistence on getting a new cat. Misty may seem a delicate, waifish feline, but she certainly knows how to use her claws. To prevent furniture destruction and stop her from ice-picking her way up our legs, my family—or, more accurately, the reluctant veterinarian hired by my family—removed Misty’s front claws when she was still quite young.
But, in credit to the adaptive ingenuity of animals, Misty learned how to make her back claws equally, if not more, destructive weapons than her lost ones. In case you’re curious, the technique goes something like this: (1) unsuspecting owner attempts to scratch cat’s belly; (2) cat uses impotent front paws to seize owner’s hand; (3) with owner’s hand firmly in place, cat proceeds to rake back claws across its prisoner’s arm as much as possible before owner shakes cat off.
Thus, my family feared that a slice-and-dice would probably await any feline who chanced to usurp Misty’s position. Yet Sam insisted, so we figured we’d at least humor him with a trip to the pound.
A trip to the pound. Shudder. I loathe the pound. I really shouldn’t because they do good service there, rescuing pandas and whatnot, but somehow . . . I loathe it. It has a disconcerting smell: the rank decay of diseased animals covered with a musk of clinical disinfectant. That smell, combined with imbued horrors from Lady and the Tramp, seized me the moment I walked in the door. I shrieked, “This is not a happy place! Get ye hence!” I hugged my mother and buried my face in her coat, blocking out the pound with her reassuring smell: books, detergent, and mint. Yes, much, much better.
When I resurfaced, we’d passed the worst parts—the area where they keep the lost and abandoned adult animals, the ones with only a single-star opportunity of being adopted, and the shadowed doorway labeled “euthanasia”—and arrived at the kitten play place. The vets kept the kittens displayed behind a viewing window, like newborn babies. But unlike human babies, kittens are actually fun to watch. Human babies just squirm and screw up their Winston Churchill podgy faces, but kittens gambol. Kittens pounce and spring and play and seize life by the whiskers mere weeks after birth. Their playroom was probably the solitary sunbeam stirring up dust motes in the otherwise wretched place.
After a few minutes of general observation, we selected two kittens to take a closer look at: a Russian Blue that looked somewhat like a dust mop and a tabby with enormous paws. The assistant veterinarian gave us a simple history of the kittens:
“These kittens have the same mother but are a different breed. The Russian Blue is a girl and she’s very mild-mannered. This one, the tabby, her brother, is rather rowdy. You can just tell from the size of his paws that he’s going to be a monster when he grows up.”
A few moments of watching the kittens confirmed the assistant vet’s words. The poor Russian Blue seemed frightened of the many feet around her. She skittered away from us to crouch quivering in the corner. Well, more like she attempted to skitter but failed because her monster-in-the-making brother tackled her. He delighted in sparring with his sister, swatting her face, jumping on her back, wrestling her tail, biting her ears—really anything to get her attention. Initially, my older sister and I took turns shooing the tabby off his poor sister, but after a while we relented because (1) he wouldn’t be discouraged, and (2) it made for highly amusing watching.
We’d started out with the intent of getting the Russian Blue because a pet book recommended that one possible way of avoiding Feline Asocial Aggression (or Misty eating the new kitten) would be to get a submissive female. But Sam insisted on getting the tabby. Perhaps after watching the large-pawed demon’s ceaseless need to annoy his sister, Sam felt a kinship with the kitten. Even knowing that the new kitten and Misty could be a dangerous combination, we allowed Sam to get him. It wasn’t just Sam’s choice; we’d all developed affection for this most exuberant of kittens.
Several days later, with all the paperwork settled and the tabby’s masculinity neatly curtailed, we brought home the kitten, newly dubbed Roy.
Roy is dead. Roy is dead. Roy is dead. The wet morning of June 13, 2009, and Roy is dead. Speckles of blood upon the rocks leading to the tree house and Roy is dead.
Dad’s holding Roy in his arms. Stiff. Dirty. But his body isn’t too damaged. Other than the blood dripping from the mouth, he looks normal . . . well, except for the stiffness.
Actually, the stiffness makes a big difference. It doesn’t look like Roy. It looks stuffed. It looks like a prop cat. It’s wrong. Are we sure that Roy is dead? Have we tried everything?
The body is cold. Dad says that someone put a traffic cone next to Roy’s body so that he wouldn’t get more damaged after he was it. Who did that? Was it the same person who hit him? Who was driving around on this street at that time of night? He is—was—such a smart animal. He looks both ways before crossing. I’ve seen him do it. Mom’s seen him do it. How is this possible? Did the rain obscure the driver’s vision? Did it obscure Roy’s vision?
Roy is dead and it’s wrong. It’s not supposed to be this way. Misty was supposed to go first. She’s older. But both of them were supposed to be around so much longer, until I go to college, until I get married and have a husband and kids and pets of my own. It’s all wrong.
Roy is dead. Dad has a shovel. He’s digging a shallow grave, beneath the tree house. Now I’ll never be able to go inside the tree house again. I’m crying. My mom’s holding my shoulders and she’s crying. There never was a better cat.
Dirt on top of the stiff body that is Roy but is not at all like Roy. Dirt and a boulder. This is a shallow grave. This is badly done. But everyone wants to be gone. We don’t want to spend more time by this once-pleasant place. I think Dad prays, offers a service of some kind. Is there a heaven for cats? Is there a heaven for people?
Walking back along the path up to the house. Drops of blood on the path, on the boulders. From his mouth. From his ears. Now I won’t be able to use this path again.
Rigor mortis, probably the most haunting sign of death, is actually the third of the four mortis stages. First is pallor mortis, the paleness of death, and then algor mortis, the coolness of death, but these mortises are subtle, overshadowed by their gruesome brother—rigor mortis, the stiffness of death. This process, the tensing of all muscles, often results in horribly contorted limbs and in bulging eyes and crooked jaws, stuck in expressions of horror, the body’s last protest. In humans, rigor mortis starts two to three hours after death and dissipates after around three days, when the body starts to decompose.
I wonder how long it would have taken for Roy’s stiffness to abate. Probably significantly less than three days. I could have held him again, felt him pliable in my arms. No, no, no . . . I’m glad we buried him promptly. He would still have been cold, and any softness would have been his form gradually melting. Plus, he might have stunk. I don’t know if the final stage, livor mortis, the blueness of death, had begun to set in on Roy before we buried him. In that phase the blood begins to pool in the lower portions of the body, causing bruise-like stains upon the too-pale skin. Luckily, the fur kept me from this. My pale, cold, stiff, purple Roy.
I’ve read accounts of people who claim to think in pictures. I used to feel this was just a way of implying an active imagination, but I think differently now. I have photos burned into my mind—moments of Roy’s funeral, objects all around the house. They’ve become associatively cursed. As soon as I see them I’m back watching my father pour dirt over the stiff not-Roy in his shallow grave.
—The stone path leading down to the tree house. It was never spattered with blood, but the speckling was almost worse. Evocative in its pattern.
—A small window across from the island in the kitchen. This window used to be one of my favorite spots to admire my reflection while cooking, but it was also a common haunt of Roy’s. After finishing his big-game hunts he waited there until we saw him and let him back inside. My mother recalls once seeing Roy in the window and pointing her finger at the door. He got the message and was waiting there by the time she reached it. Such a smart cat.
—The patch of road just south of our house that once bore the traffic cone. I didn’t see Roy before he was pried off the pavement, but I did see the dark stain of impact. It’s gone now, but worrying about stepping on the invisible remnants keeps me away from that part of the street.
—The shallow grave. It was too shallow. Too hastily done. It all felt surreal. In fact, Sam confessed similar anxieties to me the afternoon after the funeral. The speed of the whole process unnerved him. He reassured himself by digging up the shallow grave. That’s another image that haunts me: my brother scraping through the mud to embrace his stiff, bloody cat.
But I shouldn’t dwell on that. I should dwell on the good, on all the idiosyncratic miracles that made up Roy:
—His weight. Fulfilling the promise of his monster paws, Roy quickly swelled to twice the size of poor Misty. But his weight wasn’t repulsive or oppressive; it was pure jolliness. He seemed so content in his bulk, whether he was sliding about the floors or just pooling in sunbeams.
—His clumsiness. Due to his weight, Roy often had trouble stopping himself as he ran across wood floors. Because he couldn’t brake quickly enough, his momentum often slammed him right into walls. And sometimes as he lounged about on the kitchen table (belly-up as always) he’d overstretch himself and tumble off.
—His grace. Yet with his clumsiness, there were also moments when his beauty struck me. As he’d stretch in the sunbeams, I’d notice the many hues to his tabby fur and his striking tawny eyes. Beneath the sagging fur were muscles, and when the mood struck him, he could bring down big game, rats and birds half his size, which he’d then leave as presents on our doorstep. Others noticed his power too. On several occasions, I saw him strolling out of the neighborhood alley flanked by lesser tabbies. A fat kingpin alley cat.
—His meow. Roy wasn’t half so vocal as Misty. Misty meows incessantly; she’s somewhat of an attention hog, her meow a nasal whine accented with a constant look-at-me clause. When Roy was vocal he was so charming about it, his meow deep and somewhat toady. It had character, and it always meant something: Open this door. Give me food. Stop stepping on me.
—His purr. Also rare, but somewhat like a tractor with a faulty exhaust pipe.
—His sleep. When Roy slept, he puddled, he sprawled, he oozed. But it was somehow endearing, and his sleeping spot of choice was to the left of my head, where he’d snore and splay to his heart’s content. Occasionally, when he was feeling excessively forward, he’d sleep on my actual face.
—His fights. Since the first day we brought him home, he delighted in the torture of Misty. He wasn’t vicious about it—he rarely hurt her—but oh did he love to pounce on her.
Following Roy’s death, I’ve become much more aware of Misty’s frailty. She’s twelve human years, which is rather old for a cat, though I’ve heard of some living up to twenty. But before Roy died she didn’t seem old. She still had rare spasms of kittenish glee; she still demanded attention by licking all the skin off my nose; she still swatted Roy down with vigor; she still wound herself around our ankles whenever we cooked, in hopes of snagging some meat; and she was still more than willing to tear the flesh off nearby arms should they provoke her on a bad day.
But after Roy died, I started noticing problems with Misty, signs that age had finally caught her, weaknesses I hadn’t seen before. She had wounds all around her face, her nasal meow turned hoarse and grating, and—most alarming of all—large patches of her fur began to disappear. We took her to the vet, but even they couldn’t discover the cause . . . nothing physical.
After a few weeks of observation, Dad dropped a horror: “It’s self-inflicted. I think she’s been scratching and licking her own fur off.”
What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with my Misty? Why should Death have started gnawing away at her so suddenly? When he took Roy away, did he decide to linger and slowly drain my Misty? Or did she, too, lose something when Roy died? Their relationship was a fragile truce built on the idea of mutually assured . . . well, not destruction, but at least injury. When Roy died, did she lose something of her identity, her channel for all the bitterness in her life? Could guilt over his loss explain why she feels the need for this self-flagellation? Why is she so consumed by masochistic anxieties? Has an itch taken root in her mind that will not be dislodged no matter how much fur she scrapes away?
Why, Roy? Why, when you departed, did you leave the world weaker? I’ve lived eighteen years happily assured of my invulnerability, confident that ample time paved the path of my future. But now I’ve lost it. Time’s slipping away and leaving a fragile world behind. I’m being melodramatic, but I’m scared.
Time stretched endlessly during Grandma’s funeral. As a close family member, I was obligated to stay and be wrenched through the whole emotional rigmarole. I felt awkward, afraid that my inadequate sorrow would be judged. But I had to act my part. The mental to-feel list remained resolutely unchecked, so I was just going through the motions.
First, the close family filed into a viewing room to say a prayer around Grandma’s open casket. Then we were required to pass by Grandma’s body one by one and offer some sign of respect. Some people touched her hand; the most ardent ones kissed her. I opted for staring at her with a dull look that I hoped passed for gravitas. Like the stiff un-Roy, this Grandma was not like the Grandma I knew. I couldn’t bring myself to kiss her. I imagined that by this point the rigor mortis had passed, but she’d certainly be cold, and if the rigor had passed, that meant the rotting had started. I refused to kiss my partially decomposed grandmother, no matter what chemicals attempted to mask it.
Then I sat watching the two-hour service as all Grandma’s children described her many virtues. And I still wasn’t sad. People expected me to be sad. The funeral home had provided tissues for my expected effusions of sorrow. The three-year-old daughter of my cousin sobbed, and she couldn’t have known Grandma better than I did.
I wasn’t sad, but I did regret not knowing Grandma better. I was sorry for my father and, of course, my grandfather. The prospect of his impending loneliness frightened me. To be married for over sixty years and then have to do without. It was wretched. It was a deep, scary abyss. I wouldn’t allow my hypothetical future husband to die before me, but then again, perhaps he wouldn’t allow me to go without him. I figured we would just have to die together. Maybe we could go skydiving with faulty parachutes at ninety. Life beyond that point would be rather painful anyway, and wouldn’t it be lovely to embrace while hurtling hundreds of miles an hour toward eternity? I pitied whoever had to clean up the mess, though.
I was also sorry for the ten other living children. My, what an output. It was Jacob-esque, and she was my grandfather’s only wife. She could have been the mother of nations. What’s more, many of these children, at least by material standards, were successful: an oncologist, a nurse, a lawyer, an accountant, a cardiologist, an engineer, a psychologist, two sports car–driving, Jet Ski–owning endodontists . . . yikes. She raised and supported all of these children though college on the salaries of a schoolteacher and a chemist. Plus, apparently—as at least five of her children eulogized—she was always making fresh bread. Who had time for that?
I was impressed and amazed, but in a detached sort of way, like when I watched the movie Man on Wire. Oh, that man broke into and tight-walked between the Twin Towers . . . that’s impressive, if a touch crazy. Oh, that woman raised twelve children—none of whom became criminals—without putting a revolver to her head . . . that’s impressive, if a touch crazy.
I felt such a disconnect. I admired my grandmother’s abilities, but I couldn’t understand her mindset. Twelve children? Why? What impelled her? Five seemed impossible to me. Four, a touch alarming. And three, just right. Three was a fairytale number, an excellent balance. Should my hypothetical future husband and I spoil the first one and oppress the second, we’d probably have found a decent balance by the third. Mind you, I was eighteen. I didn’t intend to have these hypothetical future children for some years yet.
My grandmother married at nineteen and had her first child at twenty. How? I didn’t understand her. There was a generational gap, or a personality gap, or maybe just an ability gap. I didn’t have it in me to be like her.
But I loved her. Of course I loved her. I had warm memories of her, though perhaps rather too few:
—Her hair. In old age, the only period I knew her, time seized her gently. Her hair wasn’t the steely, tepid gray of exhaustion, but a springing white. Lovely, like a cloud. Like fresh, pure Alta powder, and somewhat like Misty’s fur before she began licking it off.
—Her memory. Despite having some thirty-four grandchildren, she always managed to get out birthday cards with a crisp ten-dollar bill in them. 10 dollars × 34 grandchildren = 340 dollars a year. And she wasn’t rich. But she still always paid.
—Her attendance. She came to almost every play I wrote or performed during high school, some of which were rather terrible, or at least shocking. For example, senior year I played the role of Miss Charity Hope Valentine in the lesser-known musical Sweet Charity. It’s hard to explain exactly, but my character was sort of a semi-hooker with big dreams and a heart of gold. Except, rather than selling the whole package, Charity sold dances, which were inevitably accompanied by being felt up. It was an immensely fun role. My grandmother can’t have approved, but she still came.
—Her cheesy potatoes. Grandma was a great cook in general, but the epitome of all comfort foods was her cheesy potatoes.
Ironically, the Utah colloquialism for this particular type of potatoes is “funeral potatoes” because Relief Society groups tend to make them for post-burial luncheons. I’ve long joked that the only good reason to go to funerals is for the funeral potatoes. This is, of course, totally tasteless, but since I was never much invested in the previous funerals I attended, it was a personal truism.
There were four different varieties of funeral potatoes at Grandma’s post-burial luncheon and none of them even came close to matching hers. Grandma would make me funeral potatoes for almost every family gathering. Who will make them now?
I did finally resolve part of my guilt dilemma. My father, being the mature man he is, decided to adopt a celebratory stance during his eulogy. Despite the suddenness of the death, he wanted to smile. Finally, after I found that I couldn’t cry, I adopted his plan and figured I might as well smile too. I abandoned my efforts at sadness and dropped my guilt. I figured Grandma wouldn’t mind my tepid feelings. Surely she’d understand and want me happy; why tear myself apart just because my mourning doesn’t involve wailing and gnashing of teeth? Grandma would understand. She’s good like that.
Once a few smiles started it became contagious. Gathered around the graveside, waiting for the family to arrive, my cousins and I started cracking jokes—stupid, tasteless ones, the best kinds of jokes. For example,
“Why did Helen Keller’s dog run away?”
“. . .”
“You would too if your name was eulueghurguluge.” (Think miracle-worker grunting.)
That’s one of my favorites. My mother hates it.
After the jokes came a somewhat amusing discussion that went something like this:
Me: Isn’t it funny in movies how you can brutally kill people on screen by chainsawing them, or axing them, or garroting them, and so on, and you can do that to as many people as you want, but you can’t do it to animals because PETA won’t allow it? Shouldn’t there be a society for the Protection and Ethical Treatment of People? But now that I think about it, it’s totally funny that I can’t bear to watch that part in I Am Legend where Will Smith has to kill his dog after it becomes a zombie, but I’m fine with Dexter, Sweeney Todd, and all those slasher movies. Bloodbaths can even be artistic when they’re people.
Mother: I hate it when they destroy really beautiful buildings in movies. It’s just such a shame, and it’s always so unnecessary.
Me: Oh, I hate that too!
Cousin Clayton: I hate it when they destroy really nice cars, like in the James Bond movies. Every other scene they’re blowing up a million-dollar car.
Me: Really? Cars?
Cousin Clayton: Yes. Well I hate it when they hurt animals too.
Brother Jon: Well, personally, I hate it when they hurt people. You guys are all monsters.
Me: Oh quiet, Jon. You’re not getting the point. It’s funny that we have these reactions to movies because people getting hurt should bother us more.
Brother Jon: It’s funny because you’re monsters . . .
I had fun. I had fun cracking tasteless jokes and bantering with my family. It was easy to grasp the joy. With this huge extended family, the fruits of Grandma’s goodness so near, it was easy to see the value in her life. She was good. She made happiness possible. Whatever heaven waits, Grandma made it there. It was an easy thing to believe.
As I wrote this essay, home for Valentine’s weekend 2010, I thought I had a nicely wrapped resolution to all my Roy anxieties. I was going to recount some cathartic experience in glorious, albeit somewhat pretentious, stream of consciousness. I was going to have some sort of revelation about the joy that Roy gave me and how there was “special providence” in the life of a cat and so on. I was going to do that, but I couldn’t. It felt false and forced, even more so than usual. So I abandoned it. I wanted to know how I really felt about Roy’s death.
Of course, I’m not emotionally traumatized anymore. I can whip up a nice passion for a while, but extended sorrow takes emotional effort, which I tend to avoid if at all possible. I know that I’m okay with Roy’s death now, but what did I take from it? What’s left of Roy, that monster-pawed cat who enjoyed life more purely than any being I’ve yet seen?
This niggling discontent drove me from my computer. About my house, the memories of Roy were particularly haunting. I shouldn’t have—I knew it was a bad idea—but I went down to the tree house. I was hoping that actually looking at Roy’s grave would provide some catharsis. I might find flowers sprouting around the boulder above his remains; then I could write something profoundly kitschy about the circle of life.
Stupid me. It was winter, everything drooped gray and drained. A nice dead-leaf mulch, but not any flowers. It bothered me. I had to get closer. Where was my resolution?
But something was wrong. I could have sworn that the boulder that covered that stupid shallow grave sat lower on the hill. Had Sam not placed it back correctly when he dug up the grave? Only one way to know.
I shifted the boulder. Beneath it, I didn’t see any bones. Phew. Just a bunch of worms and centipedes. The grave must not have been as shallow as I thought. I figured I could still spin the circle of life angle if I wanted to, just with bugs instead.
I replaced the boulder and stepped back to survey the scene. I wish I hadn’t. What upon first glance had appeared a pale branch I now saw was clearly a partially decomposed cat leg. Rather fascinating in a macabre sort of way. The paw end of the bone (His monster paws! His darling, monster paws!), other than being highly dirty, seemed relatively intact, but the opposite end of the bone was stripped clean. Maybe some fox had done this, had ripped apart Roy’s carcass and gnawed off half the meat. I bet he had good eating; Roy was rather fat, after all. Shudder.
This time I managed to resist the urge to explore further. A foot was bad enough. I didn’t want to stumble across a partially decomposed skull. I hear the eyes decompose the fastest. A semi-furred face without the amber eyes . . . no, no, no! I grabbed the boulder again and placed it over the bone. Sam shouldn’t have to see this.
Yet, as horrifying as my discovery was, I do feel comforted. The gnawing itch has dissipated. Seeing Roy’s body in this condition just confirmed my earlier suspicions. Now I’m sure that this was not Roy, just as the waxen grandma was not Grandma.
Funerals are deceptive. Their goal is to fool death for a moment: dressing the dead up, styling their hair, coloring their cheeks to hide the pallor mortis—all these acts are aimed at comforting the family, giving them a last glimpse of the dearly departed as they were before death’s perversion took hold. Now it seems a somewhat silly thing to do.
At his funeral, even though all the mortises hadn’t had their way with him and the damage to his body was so minor, Roy was clearly not Roy. And all the fineries didn’t hide death’s toll on Grandma. Lying in her coffin, her body hardly resembled her. Maybe if we let the families see more clearly the metamorphosis of death, they’d better understand the hope I’m beginning to grasp: that bodies and the sparks within them—the souls, I suppose—are two very different things.
Cut the soul’s strings and the body is purely an object. Like a Game Boy without batteries or a lamp without a bulb, the body without a soul fails in its fundamental purpose. Such empty objects aren’t really good for anything other than moldering away until they’re recycled. Whatever was my Grandmother has flitted off to heaven, where I’m sure she’s making cheesy potatoes and crocheting. I hope that when my body too begins to decay, I can go to her and bridge the gap.
I’m sorry, Grandma. Sorry that I didn’t seize my opportunities to know you better while you were here. I’m sorry that my bias for easygoing Grandma Hale, who shares my name and love of dark, dark chocolate, caused me to neglect you. She talks, and you were just so quiet. It made it difficult to approach you. I’m sorry that I told tasteless jokes at your funeral. I know that such things are only amusing to pre-teens and dumb me, but I couldn’t help but smile.
Life will go on here, and it will go on beyond here. I know it must. Socrates spoke of ways of knowing, of how some types of knowledge are like the soul’s recollection. This must be like that. I must have known it before because, though I have no proof, all I see and feel attests to it.
Are you with Socrates, Grandma? If so, he’s probably pestering you. When I come I’ll stop him. I’ll shoo him away and then not ask, but let you tell. Except maybe, even in heaven, you’ll wish to not tell, but just to work softly behind the scenes. That’s fine too. I’ll have to just hold your hand, and eat your potatoes, and kiss the cheek that so horrified me at your funeral. I’ll find a way to know you. I’ll only rest once I do.
And when I rest, on my pillow to the left of my head, Roy will sleep. He must be there too. He had such a spark that I’m sure it survived. I need more time with him, also. I don’t suppose I’ll be able to ask him questions—unless cats can talk in heaven, and who knows? In that vast uncertain realm perhaps they can. At least, I’ll be able to hold him and hear his tractor purr buzzing out his pure joy. Roy knew how to treat this world like heaven. I imagine in the next he’ll feel right at home.