READY: The busyness of doing the ‘death stuff”

Mary Ready

If only a drape of peace would gently settle over those left behind when a loved one has died.

But the opposite is the case, as any family can testify, in the aftermath of loss.

Sometimes it’s worry over finances, which have been diminished by the shortfall in Social Security payments, retirement checks or salary. Then comes the necessity to cut back on the utility bills, cable, phone service and discretionary spending.

For me, it’s also canceling his medical insurance premiums, changing the car insurance, taking his name off the credit card, bank account, the house, and appealing to the State of Florida Retirement System to get his last check returned after the bank sent it back to them because he died the day after it was issued (“Sorry, it’s our policy when the payee is deceased”).

It’s sorting through the medical bills and trying to figure out whether to pay them, wait and hope for secondary insurance to pay, or attempt to get on the phone with the billing agency to help me figure it out.

It’s also requesting the $255 death benefit from Social Security. It’s filing the forms with the school board to get his small life insurance policy paid. And hearing the agent remind me if Frank had only died two months ago, the amount would have been much more.  

And almost every entity wants an original death certificate or a notarized something-or-another document.

Most of these tasks require interminable wait times on the phone with none of the menu options being appropriate to the reason I called. I’ve learned to press zero; sometimes that gets me through to a human being.

It’s the writing of dozens of thank you notes to dear friends who sent flowers, brought food or made monetary donations in his memory. And trying to make sure the correct casserole dish is returned to the right person.

It’s selling the handicapped-equipped van which is no longer needed. And advertising the mechanical Hoyer lift, the special shower chair, and the other medical equipment. It saddens me to look at it.

It’s also collecting his clothes and usable medical supplies for donation to the nursing home, the free medical clinic and Goodwill. It was his request not to delay distribution of his possessions because he wanted others to benefit as soon as possible from the things he would no longer need. After giving certain mementos to our sons and his friends, I did as he asked.

His generous heart was also evident when he gave his tissue and corneas to Donate Life.

I have a feeling there will be even more “death stuff” to deal with in the coming weeks and months, so I don’t expect any respite for awhile.

The dubious benefit to all this busyness is that it keeps me occupied, keeps me from thinking too much about his loss. I dread the coming time when things are not so busy, and the lonely quietness finds me falling apart. That drape of peace may turn into a heavy cloak of melancholy.

Friends tell me to find an outside interest, take up a hobby, volunteer in the community, write a book, attend Bible study groups, etc.  Right now, I’m not in the mood. Maybe in a few months, maybe no time soon.

I just want to stay busy taking care of the after-death activity and doing it, as scripture advises, “decently and in order.”   

 My favorite poet wrote:

“The bustle in a house

The morning after death

Is solemnest of industries

Enacted upon earth —

The sweeping up the heart,

And putting love away

We shall not want to use again

Until eternity.” — Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

 There has certainly been “bustle in the house,” and I’ve come to understand what the poet meant about “sweeping up the heart.” In my own way, and in accordance with Frank’s wishes, I have put my earthly love into neat, organized industry until I can put it to eternal use someday.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.