I had worked a 70 hour week, capped off with a Saturday funeral that lasted (viewing to burial) 7 hours (most last 3 hours).
I got home at five, settled in by watching Penn State football and then my cell phone rang.
“Caleb,” it was my grandfather’s voice, “we have a call at Such and Such Nursing Home.”
I grabbed my suit, put it back on, drove to the funeral home, loaded the collapsible stretcher into the hearse and off I went to Such and Such.
I pull up to the front door of the nursing home. A new nurse greets me and tells me she doesn’t want me “dragging the body through her wing.”
Too tired to persuade her with a smile, I jump back into the hearse, drive around to the other wing, and as I pull up there’s a younger man wearing a Phillies shirt, maybe a little older than me sitting in his electric wheel chair. As I get out, I try to cut the I’m-a-funeral-director-here-to-pick-up-a-dead-person awkwardness by striking up a conversation. I can tell rather quickly that he’s not a visitor. He – the not so older than me person of the wheel chair – is a patient.
His speech is slurred and slowed, but his mind’s still working as he jokes with me about the choking Phillies. And as we converse, I try to open the door to the nursing home but it’s locked, which kinda upsets me cause as I peer through the door I notice there’s no one around. No one.
The anger that starts rushing through my arteries is slowly abated by a “I dot da toad for da door.” He gives me the passcode and I give him a “See ya later” as I expect him to be gone when I come back.
But 45 minutes later he’s still there.
Alone. He’s a little older than me.
I open the door and park the collapsible stretcher on the porch as I open the door on the hearse and he says, “So, you dedided to go intu da bisiness, Caleb?”
A question with an obvious answer, but it wasn’t meant to be answered … it was meant for awareness.
There was only one person I knew who was wheelchair bound that was my age.
In high school one of my good friends got drunk with one of his buddies, drove his sports car, wrecked it, flipped it, but not before throwing his buddy/passanger out of the vehicle, paralyzing this guy.
“Jackson,” I said. “I remember you.” Which was the answer he was looking for.
And then I continued with some bitching and moaning about working 80 hours this past week, which comes so naturally at times that I was able to hold my own private conversation inside my head, thinking, “How ungrateful am I complaining about working when this guy sits all day, mostly paralyzed.”
I can sometimes do two things at once. Rarely can I do three.
But here I tried: I was talking to him, trying to think about what his life’s like and then, for honor’s sake, I started to load the body into the hearse. And it wouldn’t go.
The collapsible stretcher wouldn’t collapse.
I tried to put the body laden stretcher into the hearse once, twice and on the third time I pushed extra hard and … BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP ….
Somehow when I had pushed the third time I must have squeezed the panic button on the keyless entry device in my hand and had begun to ruin the quit peace of the Such and Such Nursing Home.
It was so loud!
I hit the panic button again thinking that would stop it. Nope. Tried the “unlock” button. Nope. And it was here I tried the fourth time to get the stretcher into the van to no avail. Dilemma. I thought, “If I start the car, it will probably stop … but if I start the car, I have to leave the stretcher hanging out the back of the hearse.” But I had no choice.
We were sitting on the top of a hill and the worst case scenario was running through my head … a scenario that – if it had happened – I wouldn’t be telling it here, on my blog. But the fear of losing a stretcher down a forty foot hill with a decent sloop scared me enough to try and secure it. I then ran to the driver seat, turned the key … nope.
So I quick get out and go back to attending the stretcher all the while I’m expecting a nurse or supervisor to come out and rip into me.
For some reason I hit the panic button again and while the alarm goes off, in place of it I hear this loud, almost barking kind of a noise coming from the wheelchair: “Arf! Arf! Arf!”
Jackson’s barely able to suck in air as he lets out his massive belly laughs one loud yelp at a time. He finally gets his breath, I finally get the body in the hearse and he starts yelling, “I wish (gasps for air) I tad a camera (sucks in another deep breath) I’d put dat on (deeeeep breath) dootube!”
I had made his day … maybe his week.
The beeping crescendo of my awful week was the laughing pinnacle of his.
And his laughter somehow made all the problems of my week fade away.
(After writing and rereading this post, I thought to myself, “Hopefully nobody reads this and thinks I’m crazy.” I’d hate to come home today and have a shrink waiting to do a “quick eval” on my psychological wellness. So, as a preface, let me say that this post is dark humor … it’s meant to make light of something heavy for the purpose of gaining a different perspective. I could tell you the different perspective I’m intending to communicate, but then I’d be less than a decent writer. So, if you read this and are tempted to call the authorities, I assure you that I am crazy, but not so crazy that I’m outside the ranks of the normal.)
There’s “Middle Name Pride Day” on February 12th; March 18th is both “Awkward Moments Day” and “Forgive Your Mom and Dad Day”; and August 6th is “Hamburger Day”, so why can’t there be “Death Appreciation Day”?
Sure, most countries celebrate a “Festival of the Dead” in which they remember those who have passed away, but why not have a day solely devoted to Death?
I know, you have some questions, such as:
What would we celebrate?
1.) We’d celebrate all of the motivation that death gives the world.
I mean, would you really work so hard for that retirement if you knew you’d live forever? Would you change your bad habits right now if you knew you had an eternity to attempt to rectify yourself? Death makes responsible citizens out of most of us.
2.) We’d enjoy and celebrate other great things that Death has given us … like inheritance money.
3.) We’d also take time to be thankful for all the space our forefather’s have left us. How crowded would this globe be if it wasn’t for the Grimm Reaper? I love my relatives, but living shoulder to shoulder with them for an eternity might get slightly annoying.
4.) And then there’s the great art that Death has given us. We’d never have Edgar Allen Poe, nor could we imagine the joys of heaven with Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. And who wouldn’t miss the incredible casket haulers we call “hearses”? Hearses are moving creativity that never would have been created had Death never moved us.
5.) And chicken … steak … sushi. Seriously, why would you want to live if not for sushi? But, guess what, no death, no sushi.
6.) We’d celebrate the world economy. No death, no economy.
If you wouldn’t die, would you buy safety features on the car you probably wouldn’t own and that you definitely wouldn’t have insured?
Heck, would cars or planes even exist if we lived forever? You’d just walk to anywhere you wanted to go cause you’d have all the time in the world.
Doctors, maybe preachers, and certainly funeral directors would all be without jobs. Almost everybody would be affected (although I’m sure lawyers would find a way to get work).
7.) And for all the good people Death has taken, we shouldn’t forget it’s also taken some real jerks. Hitler. Stalin. Who would want to live forever with those guys? Death has stamped a massive “FAIL” on the forehead of most the world’s dictators. And, it’s killed all the billions and billions of stink bugs that have lost their lives.
Can you imagine a world where death never touched a stink bug? If you can’t imagine it, I can and it’s one that’s very, very stinky.
So, thank God for death. We should probably decide to celebrate it.
Once we pick a date, we can all wear black and celebrate the greatness of death by having picnics in cemeteries, listen to Emo music, watch Zombie movies and top off the day by taking a couple minutes off our lives in homage by smoking cigarettes.
If I’ve missed any of Death’s praises, please lend your voice in the chorus of appreciation.
It’s a pretty good question. Below I’ve provided some signs that may or may not implicate that you have died and gone to the next realm.
You should probably ask “Am I dead?” if …
… you turn on CNN and the breaking news reports that the government has decided there will be “No More Taxes!”
… you wake up, it’s dark outside and the temperature in your house is over 110 degrees
(NOTE: considering the current heat wave in the US, this sign may not be enough to conclusively confirm your demise … it should be seen as a concomitant factor which needs an addition sign to be absolutely conclusive. As it may feel like hell, rest assured you could experience this heat and still be very much alive).
… you don’t need coffee in the morning … or in the afternoon … or in the evening.
… you DON’T feel like a Zombie from both the tryptophan and the carb overload after a Thanksgiving meal.
…. you come home from work and there’s exactly 72 virgins in your house (in which case you’d also realize the Muslims were right).
… you’re laying in a coffin and notice people are filing by you, viewing your body (yes, it happened … except the person it happened to wasn’t dead yet).
…. you look down, and where your feet used to exist, there now exists hooves. Upon looking in the mirror you realize four things: 1.) you are now a cow. 2.) The hindus, etc. are right. 2.) Your previous life must have been pretty decent to earn the esteemed reincarnation position of cowhood … until 4.) you realize you’re not in India, but on a beef farm in Lancaster County.
… you’re walking down a yellow brick road and you see a Jewish guy with twelve of his Jewish buddies standing by some shiny fence work.
… you’re driving down a highway and suddenly enter Paradise, Pennsylvania or, you’re driving in Michigan and enter a little town called “Hell.”
… the whole town is spreading a rumor over Facebook that you’re dead (like the rumor that was spread about my uncle two weeks ago).
… your children are obeying your every command … all the time … before you have to tell them twice.
… you drink an entire 32 oz. slushy in less than a minute and you don’t get at brain freeze.
… Elvis is in your living room.
Are there any other signs that might cause you to question whether or not you’ve passed into the next life?