Lucille C. was one of those elegant women with long, thin necks, slim hips and the perfectly coiffed hair. Her jewelry was understated, but stylish, and she wore a lot of straight knee-length skirts with broad-shouldered jackets. I remember her bracelets. As she got older, her eyes were a bit more sunken back into her finely sculpted face, and yes, she gained a few more wrinkles, but from the time I knew her to the time she left to go up to Gunnison, Utah and live next door to her son, she didn't seem to age, not even on the day she buried her husband.
Lucy--as many called her--left just as my life got busy and so I only heard certain details of how she was doing. That's she'd moved into a smaller home near her son, that she felt they ignored her and weren't helpful, that one day they took her to the rest home and while she was there, signed the papers to sell her own home and keep her there. I heard that she missed fresh lemons off of the tree. I heard that the daughter-in-law who lived next door "borrowed" her Christmas china and kept it. I heard that Lucy was losing weight--a scary thing on a woman who never had an extra ounce to begin with. I heard she was losing her hearing and was occasionally muddled. I heard that she fell and broke her ribs. Then I heard that she contracted pneumonia. This past week, I heard of her death. I'll miss her.
Because she's so far away there's no obituary, but if she were to have one, I'd want her daughter-in-law that lives here to write it, for when she broke the news to me, she said that Lucy had "gone to her glory." Of all the ways I've heard the process described, of all the many words that we use to convey the information, I like that one. The others that are seen in the obituaries I read faithfully every morning contain versions of : passing, crossing the bar, gone to her eternal rest after a noble fight. That last one always prompts me to wonder if my fight would be noble, or if in fact, there'd be no fight at all, but only relief. (I'll let you know later.) These other euphemisms seem not to have the verve and plainness of Emily Dickinson's language, when she wrote that "Dying is a wild night and a new road," and in fact, I've banned the insipid phrases from my obituary (like I'll have anything to say about it).
Of course, I can be cavalier with my plans for those who are left behind when I go to my glory: while I assume I'll miss them--I'll be gone. However, I'll probably feel differently when my time comes to stand on this side of the casket, gazing in on a familiar face. I may use euphemisms, too. Please sit me down and have a little talk with me for then--as the bereavement counselors say--there's a good likelihood that I'm apparently not processing the full range of emotions that attend the death of someone that is loved. Apparently that is critical--to do it at the time. Okay. Add that one to the list.
We seem to have so many interim deaths before the last one arrives that we have a whole range of phrases ingrained in our language; we describe fatigue with the phrase "I'm just dead." We joke around and say "You kill me." Or my favorite, which came from the new widow of several days, after she spent the afternoon looking at coffins for her deceased husband: "If Richie knew how much these things cost, he would just die."
How to talk about death then? Maybe you like the soft shoe, the dead body shuffled off in heavenly choruses and swaddled in euphemisms. I have a feeling when if that moment finally arrives in my life to stand beside the casket and say good-bye, that I'll employ a whole host of wicked and frightful mechanisms in order to cope. Dickinson's description of death may prove to be the better template for struggle, as those left behind will face more than one wild night, more than one new road.