I never appreciated the “dry heat” of the desert until this moment. He hadn’t been dead long but already the smell permeated my nostrils. The humidity added weight to the smell. It clung to the air, hovering around my face like a sickly fog. I touched my hand to my chest, allowing the heavy feeling of grief to settle. “We’re sorry for your loss.” I say it so often but I always feel every word. The gathered bereaved nod knowingly at me. In that moment, we really see each other. Death is made meaningful in grief. Suddenly all things are equal. You glimpse raw humanity, no filters.
Then I’m home, standing in the garage. No matter how I got there. Details fade and take on a subtle insignificance after spending the day with the dead and the grieving. I begin the post-work ritual of undressing in the garage, shedding the weight of the day into a pile on the floor. I slip my shoes and socks off and feel the warm concrete ease the aching in the soles of my feet. I undress with purpose, appreciating the dexterity and grace of every movement, appreciating life, pondering the oddity of this existence with it’s inevitable end.
I felt him standing there, at the edge of the garage behind my SUV. “You can’t stay here. I’ve got enough memories already.” I didn’t look up but I felt him nod, knowingly, and fade away. It wasn’t him, not really. It was the imprint of a moment. I'm reminded of his purpling hands, tracing the striated skin up to his face, and into his vacant eyes. As he lay sprawled on the floor of his apartment earlier today I could feel the distinct absence, the nothingness. His body may have well been just another piece of furniture. It was comforting, like a confirmation that he had “passed on.”
I remember the conversation with my sister years ago, back when I’d seen so few bodies I could still remember them all. “What’s it like, seeing a dead body?” She held her wine glass in both hands and leaned forward on the couch, like an excited child waiting to hear a spooky story. “It’s anti-climactic.” I thought of that sensation, that conflicted feeling of both knowing there was a person in the room in the literal sense, but also feeling the aloneness of standing next to a body. “It’s like being alone in a room.” My sister gave a small frown and sat back, as if to say “you’re holding out on me.” We both took a sip of wine and the conversation naturally shifted to kids and pets and the latest family gossip.
I gathered the pile of clothes from the garage floor and opened the door to the house. At the end of the day all that was left was a faded memory, a heaviness, and dirty laundry.