When one is dealing with the dying or the very old, one ends up having some strange discussions. The most bizarre conversation came about on Tuesday afternoon. The hospice social worker was here to discuss various matters and to bring us current on the procedures hospice has already taken care of and to let us know what they will doing in the future.
To me, one of the greatest benefits of hospice is that no matter what happens or what you need, there is but a single phone call to make — to hospice. Hospice does the rest. The social worker reminded me of this and said to notify them when my father was gone, and they will call the designated mortuary and arrange for the body to be picked up.
I knew hospice performed that service, of course, but this is where things got weird. “Since this is a private home and not an institution,” the social worker said, “according to the law, the mortuary has up to a week to collect the body.”
“A week?” I all but shrieked. It seemed impossible that a body could be allowed to remain in a private residence for so long. At the very least, it has to be insanitary. “But what do we do about . . . ?” Since my father was sitting right there, I didn’t want to put my concerns into words, but the woman understood I was referring to smells and decomposition.
“There shouldn’t be a problem for a week,” she said. “Just close his door. If you’re worried, you can always pack ice around the limbs. That will help.”
My first thought was relief that we have so many gel-packs stored away. My second thought was a bit of macabre humor: so my father is lying there, ice packs around his slowly decomposing body. And what would I do? Go to dance class, of course.
I truly doubt I’ll have to deal with a body in the house for a week. When my mother died, this same mortuary arrived within three hours, even though they are 121 miles away. But yes, if my father lay here dead for a week, I would continue with my dance classes.
It makes sense, of course. My presence would have no effect on him, he would have no need of my help, and there wouldn’t be much for me to do since another sister is in charge of funeral arrangements. But still, the thought of dancing with a dead body in the house does seem a bit coldhearted, and I’m sure people would be appalled.
And yet . . . when else should one dance? If dancing is life, and life is dancing, then it is in the presence of death that we need dance the most.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.