Just hours after my loving husband’s sudden death on June 30, 2000, my family and I gathered around a table in a local mortuary to plan my fifty-four year old husband’s funeral. Confused and filled with emptiness, I struggled to make the hardest decisions of my life. After the funeral, as the months crawled by, I realized the funeral was only the beginning of my long journey through grief and back into life. The following excerpt is from my book, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal.
“Call your doctor. You need pills.” My friend at the other end of the phone was right. With my sister, Mary, her husband, Al, and my brother, Mike, gathered in the kitchen, I clicked off the phone and speed-dialed my doctor’s number. His nurse answered and said she was sorry to hear about John. I told her we were planning the funeral and asked her if I could get some medication that would help calm me down. She put me on hold while she checked with the doctor. It seemed like forever, before the line clicked and my doctor’s voice echoed in my ear.
“I’ll have Bonnie call a prescription in to the County Market pharmacy in Hudson. It’s a small dose of lorazepam, just enough to take off the edge.” I thanked the doctor and hung up. My brother-in-law offered to drive into Hudson to pick up the prescription. After he left we called the mortuary in Stillwater and scheduled a time to discuss the funeral.
Maybe it was the drugs or denial, because I only remember small fragments of that July morning at the mortuary. I remember sitting at a long shiny table with Mary, Al and Mike surrounding me. The room was cold and dark for a bright summer day. A well-groomed funeral director with a silver name badge, dressed in a dark suit and a perfect tie, sat across the table. A burgundy folder decorated with gray calla lilies rested unopened on the table in front of him.
The young director shared his condolences. He opened the Family Service folder and gave us a list for funeral planning. Puzzled and in a fog I wondered, Why isn’t John sitting at the table with us? The funeral director talked about flowers, programs and motorcycle escorts. He asked if we wanted a bagpiper. I told him John loved bagpipe music. Yes, a bagpiper would be nice. When he asked if I wanted my husband’s wedding band left on or taken off, I hesitated. I told him to let it go with John and started to sob.
My brother-in-law’s voice broke through my tears. “Di, are you sure?” I wiped my eyes and shook my head. The director scribbled a note on the planning sheet to remove the gold band before closing the coffin and return the ring to me after the funeral. Then he led us to the casket room. We wandered among the shiny coffins and picked out a mahogany casket with polished brass handles. Al assured me that John would approve of my choice. I signed the four-page funeral agreement. When I came to the “Discount For Prompt Payment” section I checked the “yes” box. The payment date “7/7/00” leaped off the page. My birthday. A one hundred and fifty dollar discount on my husband’s funeral was not the gift I wanted for my fifty-third birthday.
I slipped the agreement copies and the pre-interment warranty into the burgundy folder, shook the director’s hand and followed my family out the door. When we walked out into the bright sunshine that filled the parking lot, my legs wobbled. My heart raced. Exhausted, I slid into the hot stuffy car, praying this was all a dream. When I walked into the kitchen, I ignored the flashing red light on the message machine and headed for the living room. I stared at John’s blue leather chair. It was empty.
Only fragments of the funeral remain as wisps of memories. Waves of humidity suffocated me as I crawled out of bed on the morning of July 3. My sister stood in the kitchen, sipping coffee. “Did you sleep okay?” I shook my head. I searched for signs of John. His favorite chair at the dining room table where he drank his morning coffee, read the paper and worked the crossword puzzle was empty. There was no note attached to the refrigerator saying, “Sweetheart, have a wonderful day. I love you.” No sound of his cough. No moan of his portable oxygen tank. An unfamiliar silence filled the house.
Diane Dettmann’s memoir, Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal (Outskirts Press), runner-up in the national “Beach Book Festival” awards has received excellent reviews. Endorsed by Marty Tousley, a nationally certified bereavement counselor with “Hospice of the Valley” in Phoenix, Arizona and Dr. Gloria Horsley of “Open to Hope” a national grief foundation. Twenty-Eight Snow Angels is bringing hope to others. Diane is also the coauthor of Miriam Daughter of Finnish Immigrants and has presented her writing at international conferences in Finland, Canada and at various local venues. Both of her books are available on Amazon.com at and on her website.
Updated: August 15, 2013