I recognize that ultimately this is kind of a sad story, the connection between these two hearts is real and so I decided to share anyway.
I knocked firmly on the wooden door. It was an ordinary wooden door to an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood. As I patiently waited I checked to make sure I had buttoned my black suit jacket and that my pressed black pants were clean and free of lint. I cradled a clipboard in my arm and looked over the information written on it one more time so that I could address the family by name. As the door opened a middle age man stood in my view. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and looked tired, it was almost midnight. The blackness outside was stark against the light spilling from the now open doorway. I introduced myself as the funeral director with the mortuary and asked about the person whose name I had been given and written on my clipboard.
I was invited into the home and the door was closed behind me. I entered a cozy living room where two women sat a couch together, the couch was cream with mint green stripes. The man who invited me in walked passed me and sat on a recliner with the same pattern as the couch. I made my introductions again and inquired after their names and relation to the woman that I would be leaving with. They were all her children. As we talked I took a seat on a wooden chair near the group and looked around the room. Family pictures were carefully placed on a mantle. A side table held a tall white lamp and stack of papers. Then I got down to the reason I was there. To take their mothers body back to the mortuary with me.
They talked about her a little and told me how she had held everyone in the family together and her passing was going to be an adjustment. She had been ill for some time with cancer and even though her death was expected it was hitting them hard. I inquired about their father and was told that he was not handling her death well, that he was in his room sleeping. After gathering some details I had the family take me to where their mother was located. We walked down a small hallway and entered a room to our left. The room was dimly lit. There was the smell of illness, if you haven’t ever experienced this before it is like a mixture of bleached linens and medication. There were two beds in the room parallel to each other. One was a twin bed pressed against the far wall and the other a hospital bed located just near the doorway where we were standing. There was a nightstand next to the hospital bed covered in pill bottles, tissues and a partially empty water bottle. I took everything in and realized that both beds were occupied by still and silent forms. I walked up to the hospital bed where the woman lay and assessed her position and how best to move her without disturbing the other occupant of the room. The twin bed held a man curled up in the blankets facing the far wall with his back to us, not moving. I gathered that this was her husband and he was doing his best to ignore what was going on in the hospital bed next to him.
The children and I took our leave and I waited until we were back in the living room to address the situation. I asked, “Is that your father?” and “Does he want to leave the room before I bring the cot into the house?” They assured me that he would want to stay where he was and to proceed as normal. I walked out of the house to get my coworker waiting by the van and unload the cot. As we walked back to the house I explained to him what we were walking into and how we would proceed. Everything went as planned. We successfully transferred the woman into our care and left as the children stood in the open doorway of the house watching us drive away.
About a week later I received another first call (when we are first notified of a death), it was the same address and the same family name. Of course my thoughts went to the curled up man in the bed on the far side of that dimly lit room. I entered through the same wooden doorway, spoke to the same children and walked down the same small hallway into the same room. The form in the twin bed was just as still as he had been a week ago. The hospital bed had been removed but everything else in that room was the same. As the children and I left the room and walked down the hallway towards the living room for a second time I asked, “Had he also been ill?” the answer was no, he just stopped moving after their mother died. He wouldn’t eat or drink, he just gave up.
This scenario happens more often than most people would think. A person can die of literal heartbreak. I read an article once that explained when people are that connected, the survivor is so distraught that their heart reacts just like they were having a heart attack. It is actually called “Broken heart syndrome”. I for one find this terribly romantic, that a love between two people is so deep that when one dies the other simply cannot live without them. It seems like more and more people give up on love once it gets difficult, but these stories give me hope that there is still lots of love out there and couples are making it work through the good times and the bad. I hope this for all of you this Valentine’s day. Struggle through the hard times and make it last until death do you part.
“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets