Death, A To Do List

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No one talks about the meticulous chores that follow death, the seemingly vestigial arrangements that one must make without complaint, and without recollecting memories. How after one’s loved ones are gone, buried or burnt and prayed for, one must unsubscribe to the list of magazines and newsletters that keep making their way in through the letterbox. 

Someone must make calls or write letters to close family, and without losing their composure recite the date and time of the funeral. Those around you suddenly seem to look older than their age, wrinkled, sleep-deprived, and soap-smelling. An anonymous guest finds their feet in your kitchen and makes everyone tea, bereavers must eat. 

Often, the place where they once lived, laughed, moved with life in, comes to be settled with dust before someone remembers to clean and mop, contact a broker and sell the property. Things need to be given away, medical bills filed, insurances claimed and bank accounts closed. A police officer might visit to create a certificate of passing. An appropriate photograph is added to the mantlepiece, not one where they look too old, or too young, just right. What do you do with their coin collections and unopened box of assortment biscuits?    

Between the questions, the taxes, the law and the prayers, sometimes you forget that they are, after all, dead. Still made of skin and bones, but lesser in ways you cannot explain, even though all that is missing is breath. O2, Only Oxygen. It’s almost as if they left behind their papers and their home, unorganised and in need of caring, so that you can grieve without pain, live each day more easily than the last, and slowly heal yourself as you fall asleep tired and spent by dinnertime.  

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You were here

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My beret was damp with rainwater. Something about the rain today makes it sharp, prickly against my skin, like shards of glass. An angry lover has thrown a bouquet of pink roses on the floor, all its thorns falling down in a melody. I did not think of the umbrella in my bag walking from the driveway to the door. I place my hat in a watery choice on the coffee table. The eyes in the oil-painting we bought for our hall look untrusting. They seem to be looking away, outside, at the ice plants that smile like death.

I turn right, and walk upstairs. The sound of your music plays with my footsteps. I picture your hands moving like liquid from one key to the next. The pauses are filled, like flowers blooming in slow motion. On the podium, I pause to brush my fingers on the window. The raindrops race and I quicken my step as your song grows louder. The attic’s green door is open, and your ghost sits on a stool by the piano. Your grey eyes turn to me, full of tears that refuse to cry, as if all the rain in the sky was here, in this grey room, between us, and if I touched you, it will all disappear.

I pull a chair and sit down opposite, fold my hands on the lid and place my chin on my arms as I listen to you stop at a crescendo, and then softly, play on, a song of life after love. I have left no wet footprints on the stairway, the house is cold like before. Nothing can tell if I was here, and if for a while, you were too.

 

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LITTLE THINGS

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Dear June,

Some mornings I wake up only for you.

Thank you for embracing me without hurting my bones. For keeping the refrigerator stocked, filled to the brim with eggs.

For letting me walk you down the altar, weak and frail.

For forgoing not one, but two childhoods, yours and Susan’s, in my care.

I know living with me and my cancer is difficult, but thank you for never complaining about this untimely guest.

I will love you in life and in death, and I will try, for as long as possible, to be your

Mom