Monday, 28 February 2011

The Final Farewell

It sounds kind of morbid but I want to write about seeing Andrew for the last time.  Seeing his body in the coffin and saying goodbye.

Maybe it will bring some closure in my own mind and help the enormity of my loss sink in.  It's still so unbelievable.

I’ve just had a busy half term holiday with the boys, both visiting and then having visitors and when we were finally alone again I felt bereft, once more overwhelmed with widowhood.  There’s a realisation that when everyone’s gone it’s just us three, no longer four, and I have no one to discuss all the day’s events with.

Maybe I want to write about a dead body because I’m reading a crime novel.  It’s the only book I’ve been able to get absorbed in for a while.  It’s so far removed from my everyday world.  There’s a serial killer on the loose, the body count is rising and there is a dysfunctional but savvy detective on the case and you just know by the last page all the loose ends will be neatly tied.  If only life and death was so tidy!

Andrew’s was the first dead body I’ve ever seen.

I’ve never wanted to see one before.  When my Grandma died and then my Grandad two years later I was only in my twenties.  The thought of seeing a dead body was “disgusting” back then.  I was nowhere near prepared, death was something remote and distant.  

My Grandma died suddenly, I’ve written about her before, but my Grandad had been ill for quite a while.  I couldn’t even cope with visiting him in hospital, so I have no recollection of the last time I saw him.  Now that makes me feel selfish and heartless.

I can’t really remember seeing a dead pet before until our guinea pigs died.  I remember with one of them Andrew gingerly lifted it up on a trowel so as not to touch it and laid it in a shoe box coffin.

We were both amazed when your youngest child wanted to touch it!

What thoughts and fears go through our heads?  There’s an adult repulsion as we imagine all kinds of microscopic beasties that could inhabit the fur.  But to a child it’s just their pet “sleeping”.

Obviously with Andrew there was no question of all of us going to see him.  We’d all been there when we found him and I’m certain now he had already gone then.

This was our chance to say a proper goodbye.

I went twice, the first time with the boys.

Because we had found him in a kneeling position face down the blood had rushed to his head.  The undertaker warned us there were some red patches around his eyes but nothing really prepares you for the first glimpse.

There’s a gasp, maybe not even audible but deep inside.  The disbelief despite the physical evidence before your eyes.

Then there’s the coffin framing the resting body giving it an eerie finite quality.

The boys were very brave and I held it together for them as best as I could.  I had a briefly longer stay than them but was so aware they were waiting outside the door for me to take them home that I had to leave.  So I kissed Andrew on the forehead and thought that was it.

Fortunately I got another chance to say goodbye.

My parents said they would like to see him.  So the following day we went along with a friend who had flown all the way from Chicago to England to be with us.

After saying their own goodbyes they left me for my final farewell.

It was easier to look at his face the second time.  The red blotches appeared to fade and I could see beyond them.   

Andrew’s hair had been brushed back, so uncharacteristic, so I pulled some forward and messed it up a bit with my fingers.  

He had been shaved, so much better than he even managed himself.

“You’ve missed a bit!” I’d tease him rubbing my hand along the rough stubble.

“Get off!” he’d say, playfully pushing me away!

I stuck my finger in the hole in his jeans on his thigh.  The hole was where a dog had bit him.  He’d been teasing the guard dog at the bus company where he worked, his own fault so I had no sympathy.  I loved putting my finger in and touching his flesh.

“Get off!  Leave it alone!” He’d pull away, but not this time.

His leg was firm to touch as it always had been.  I loved feeling the solid muscles in his legs so different from my own legs which feel soft and flabby!  He always felt physically so strong and powerful.  I always felt safe and protected in his arms.

I sat and held his hand for a while, fingers entwined together.  Telling him how much I loved him.

I wanted to touch his chest but under the Tshirt I could feel the crinkle of plastic.  I suspect it was something to cover up the scar where they had done the post mortem.  Where they had been inside to find his heart that to the outside world was so full of love but inside was so full of pain.

There was some tell-tale cotton wool poked behind his ears, some other sign of an internal investigation that I can’t begin to imagine, nor do I want to!

Finally I kissed him on the lips.  They were cold like he’d just come inside on a winter’s day.  But they still felt soft.  I kissed them again.

And that was my final farewell to my Andrew who was there and yet wasn’t really there all at the same time.

I know it’s not really the end and I will see him again one day but being without his physical presence is so hard.  And the more I miss the physical the more I seem to actually ache.

 No hands to hold or arms to embrace,
         no chest to rest my head on,
                     no eyes to sparkle and light up my world,
                            no lips to kiss....

Just some of the many things in the list of things I miss….


  1. What a truly moving peice of writing Sarah. My heart really does ache for you and I am sure all wives will identify with your need to touch him.
    I have seen a fair few dead bodies throughout my life and it is very strange how they are still there but the spirit is gone. All but a shell of who we once loved :-( I am glad you got to say a final and private farewell to Andy, it is so important when someone dies so suddenly.
    There are no words to really ease your pain but I wanted you to know that your writing is not only cathartic for yourself but gives the rest of us an insight into your pain and into the deep loss that losing a spouse creates. May it make us all more sympathetic and understanding of someone who is grieving and less flippant with the 'how are you today' comments.

  2. Sarah, sending you lots of love and prayers. What you have written is so beautiful and moving.
    Hannah xxx