Thursday, July 30, 2009

Repost #7 The Dead Woman in My Truck

Recently the subject of cremains and what to do with them has come up on Facebook and it reminded me of this story. Obviously, this was written when my dad was still alive and I was still married, just to avoid any confusion.

Original post August 5, 2006

I rode around with Erna's remains in my truck for quite a while. I honestly didn't mean to. I would have liked to have dumped her somewhere,
anywhere, rather than drive with her daily. But Erna, in death as much as life, was hard to shake.
I don't remember exactly when Erna became one of my dad's patients. He always had one or two little old ladies that depended on him completely. He'd go grocery shopping for them and take them to appointments with specialists. The first of these was Mrs. Wildt, who crocheted me a baby blanket that I have to this day. The last, and perhaps greatest, was Erna.

Erna was a little old Italian lady. I didn't know her age, but I'd guess she was in her late 80's. Her husband had been dead for years, and had probably committed suicide if she was half the woman then as she was when I knew her. She'd call at all hours of the night; a hypochondriac that was dying. There's no worse kind. It's not like you could just tell her to suck it up, you aren't really sick, because in reality, she was inching closer and closer to death. But her complaints were only tangentially connected to her illness. And she didn't care who knew about them.

"My vagina hurts!" she told me over the phone. Only she didn't pronounce it vagina, she said "ba-gina."

"Ok, Erna... I'll tell Dr. Joe."

"My ba-gina hurts! Get Dr. Joe. I think I'm dying."

"Ok, Erna... You have to get off the phone so I can call him. He's not here."

"Oooooooh.... I'm dying." click.

That's how most of our conversations went. I sometimes went with my dad to see Erna in her little mobile home. She had no sense of privacy about her body and would often partially disrobe with me in the room in order for my dad to check her heart with his stethoscope. There we'd be. Erna with her sad, wrinkled breast resting in her lap. My dad asking her to take a deep breath... and again... and hold. Me sitting on the couch wishing I was anywhere but there and the motheaten deer head watching forlornly over the whole affair.

When I graduated high school I forgot about Erna for a couple of years. I'd moved out of state, but when I came back she was still there. Still calling dad's office and home whenever she felt a twinge of panic.

Then dad had a stroke. They didn't expect him to live. It started one morning in his office. He didn't feel very well and when he tried to get up out of his chair, he found he couldn't. I was living in an apartment above his office at the time and going to UCF. When I got back from class, there was a note on my door from his receptionist that said to meet my mom at the hospital. They never have determined exactly what it was. One neurologist thought it was a clot, while another believed it to be an unnatural constriction of the blood vessels to his brain stem brought on by high blood pressure.

He survived, despite the poor prognosis. He was on a ventilator for months and does physical therapy to this day. He never recovered any of his fine motor skills and is unable to walk.

While dad was still in the hospital, Erna was still dying. Without my dad, I think she finally decided that she didn't want to live anymore and she passed away a few months after his stroke.

While he was on the ventilator, my dad and I communicated via an alphabet board. I would run my finger down the letters and he would blink at the correct letter.


"I know," I told him.


"Ok. But do you need anything?"


So I went to the funeral home and picked up a small box with her ashes. She had declined even an urn. She wanted her ashes to be spread in the ocean.

I retrieved them, but I was still busy with dad. I'd drive several hours daily to stay with him during the day at the rehabilitation facility. After a while, it just became another object in my truck: a cd case, books, and a box of Erna.

When I moved to Massachusetts I forgot about her. I had to leave my truck in Florida while I drove the moving truck north. My brother-in-law drove it up a couple of months later. I didn't tell him about the box.

We came back for a visit and my wife insisted I bring Erna. It was a busy time, visiting with everybody... checking on dad's progress which had noticeably slowed.

Our last day it was raining, but Britton insisted that we get rid of Erna. She wasn't driving back to Massachusetts with her. I didn't know what the big deal was. I'd been driving around with her for a couple of years by then. We drove to the Intracoastal and Britton got out with Erna's box and let her go off a pier. According to Britton, her last word was, "Bloooop."

Some might call it laziness... or indifference... or even passive aggressiveness. But I think my failure to let her go was something deeper. Maybe I was holding on to a time when my dad cared for people and wasn't cared for, a time when he was the most important person in the world to someone else.


jojo said...

Good story. so sweet. and it is heartwarming even if you did drive her around all that time. Reminds me of my mother and her dog sparkle in the trunk (her housekeeper wouldn't come in the house with ashes in it, even if it was a dog)... and then the lease was up on that car. And forgot sparkle in it haha. She had to embarassingly go retrieve her dead retriever from the car lot. :)

Joey B said...

Thanks Jojo... She was a funny old lady.

I'd pay big money to see your mom have to do that.

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