The son, Robert, my age, called in his mother’s death. Kay had been on hospice four months. 

I was short-staffed yesterday, so I gave Robert a choice. He could either wait an hour while I rousted up an extra staff person to accompany me, or, if urgency was required, he could help lift his mother down one small set of stairs. Of course, he chose immediacy. 

It was pouring rain when I arrived. The house had the well-maintained appearance belonging to those who are firmly in the middle of life and not at the tail end, when things fall apart and energy flees the center. Domestic smells and coffee fragranced from Robert’s kitchen. His wife exclaimed sweet nothings about the rain, then jauntily asked if I would like a cup of coffee—a first for me in a death home. I declined. 

I told Robert what was going to happen and where I expected him to help. Then, I brought the gurney into Kay’s room and while I shrouded her, I asked how long he and his wife cared for Kay. 

“Four months. We took her out of a nursing home where they were drugging her to death, brought her here and took her off all meds. She started eating and gained weight. She connected with the world and with us. We got her this big TV so she could watch her shows. Lots of times she would just listen to music. We loved having her with us.”  

I transferred her from the bed to the cot, then buckled her up and zipped up the body bag. Next, I covered her in a quilt. Then, I set a red, long-stem rose on her pillow. Robert started to cry and left the room. I negotiated the hallway by myself, then called for Robert’s help at the front doorway step. As he headed out the door, his wife called, “Now, you be careful, Robert.”

He followed me out to the driveway as I pushed the gurney. Robert did the funeral director pose (both hands folded in front of him) while I closed the door of the van. When I shook his hand, and told him to take great care of himself, he couldn’t speak. I drove off with Kay in the Easter rain. 

When Death Comes

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. 

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real. 

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, 

or full of argument. 

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. 

—Mary Oliver 


  • Paul Boardman

    Writer and inter-faith Funeral Chaplain and Celebrant living in Seattle, Washington.

    Paul Boardman grew up in Tokyo, Japan, and holds the farcically-named “Masters of Divinity” from Princeton Theological Seminary. Two of his enduring thematic obsessions in writing are: what constitutes a good life in the face of death/loss and the nature of yearning, even greed, for love. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in The Good Men Project, Gravel, 3rd Act and ICCFA magazine, and in the anthologies Grief Dialogues: The Book, Just a Little More Time, We Came to Say and We Came Back to Say. He is looking to place his memoir.