EPISODE 28: The Father and Son’s Day
The phone rang in the middle of the night, and on the other end was Mr. Becker, CJ’s boss and owner of the funeral home. It was a first call (death call). CJ struggled to wake up and switch on the light. Quickly she grabbed paper and pencil to jot down the information. Mr. B. wanted her to pick up the deceased at a rehabilitation center, which was nearly 70 miles away. She rushed to dress and get on the road.
Rehab places are nursing homes. Sometimes folks go there to get recuperative care, physical therapy, or post-op rehabilitation before they can fully qualify for release to return home. Sometimes, they are so infirm they never manage to return home.
Most of these places do not have a morgue or refrigeration available for the patients who decease, thus making it necessary to call the funeral home to promptly come pick up the bodies. CJ was surprised to note that the man, Mr. Jennings, was just 38 years old. Apparently, he had been in the center as a long-term care patient. As she glanced over the information on the paperwork, she saw that he had been admitted for a life-long degenerative disease, which had been at the end-stage. CJ signed for his personal effects, the paperwork, and then collected Mr. Jennings.
The sun had begun to come up by the time she reached the mortuary. That is when I awoke to the clatter in the prep-room. I came out to greet her, scrambling up the cord of the embalming machine, on the counter beside the sink. She was washing her hands when she noticed me perched on the porcelain edge.
“You startled me! How are you, my little furry pal?”
I told her I was good and she mentioned she’d been out half the night to pick up this case. She warned me to stay out of sight, before she left to return home to dress and get ready for the work day. She was kind enough to stop at her desk to get me a cracker before she disappeared.
A couple of hours later, as she was finishing Mr. Jennings’ embalming, the intercom line rang. Mr. Becker needed her to get ready to go on a house call. She shooed me off the utility cart I’d been standing on, watching her as she embalmed.
“Hurry! Jump into my purse if you are coming with me. Hey, stay out of sight, too. Mr. B. is going out on this one with me.”
I did as I was told and disappeared into the inner pocket of her purse. I love to go with her on calls. But, I knew I’d better behave or Mr. B. would kill me if he saw me.
As we got into the van, Mr. B. remarked that this was going to be a long day. He went on to say that the person they were going to pick up was Mr. Jennings, Sr.
CJ looked at him with disbelief. After all, she’d been up all night dealing with a Mr. Jennings. “Are you serious?” she asked.
Apparently, when the rehab center made notification of death this morning, by telephoning the father of Mr. Jennings, he essentially died of a broken heart. Within a couple of hours, his heart gave out and he dropped dead.
He had been very close to his son, visiting several times a week. The old man was acutely aware that the end was near for his beloved only son and he tried to spend as much time as he could with him. It had grieved him to have to put his son in the care home, but he could no longer manage the complications and progressing medical complexities by himself, from their home.
He was in his late seventies and with his own infirmities.
He wanted only to ensure the best care for his son, so he did what he had to do.
It was all very sad. CJ told me later, as she was embalming the senior Mr. Jennings, that this is not very unusual. She said that it mainly happens with husbands and wives, though. People who have been married for decades. Jennings, the elder, had been a widower for several years, and his son was the center of his universe.
As the day wore on, I pondered the whole father-son connection and bond. That was quite a strong tie they had. I imagined the poor father had struggled with many sorrows, through his son’s life. From the initial dreams for his son at his birth… then hopes for those dreams being dashed in learning of the disabling disease, adjusting family life around this situation, caring for the multitude of medical needs and crises that came and passed over the years… no doubt the burden this father carried was one of great love and sorrow, too. It must have been terrible to know his boy might one day die, while he still remained, eventually to be tasked with burying him.
The best part of this story was the moving funeral service. There they were, at the front of the chapel, father, and son, together side-by-side in matching caskets made of dark cherry wood. It was beautiful, with the flowers all around, and matching casket floral arrangements of dark red roses. The celebrant spoke of the happy day the two must be enjoying in eternity; no longer encumbered by sickness or suffering for the young man and no more sorrow or worry for the father. A joyful day, certainly.
Yes. Classic broken heart, it did him in. But in the end, I like to think that their spirits were joined that morning, and went together hand-in-hand, to that place souls go when they pass from this earthly existence.
I am convinced it was just in this way. One day, I shall know for sure.
©2014, C.S. Thompson.