Andrew Seaman CC
When the demand to understand your death consumes me, I take out Husband-in-a-Bag. The bag is in a plastic box I bought at The Container Store and keep on the top shelf of my office closet. On sleepless nights I stand on a chair, bring down the box, and lay the contents of the bag on my desk. Like a pilgrim on the road, you took only what was needed for your journey, a cross-country trip following our guru, Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, Amma The Hugging Saint, on her eleven-city, U. S. Tour. These are the things you carried the day you died:
—an orange cotton shoulder strap bag from Amma’s ashram, the color of a renunciate and a swami.
—a yellow cotton zippered hoodie, the same shade as your souped-up vintage Volvo station wagon, “The fastest car on the track with a roof rack.” You wore the hoodie around the race track and on your twelve trips to India.
—your Archana prayer book laminated in plastic with thumb-marked corners and crinkled pages of Sanskrit prayers that you chanted every morning: The 108 Names of Mata Amritanandamayi, The 1000 Names of the Divine Mother, The Guru Stotram and Arati. You defaulted to an Italian accent when the correct pronunciation of the fifteen-syllable Sanskrit words evaded you. Prayer became your romance language. The book falls open to the second page with the invocation,
“By renunciation alone immortality is attained.”
—your hairbrush with strands of silky chestnut-colored-streaked-with-gray hair. On our sixth date I took you to my haircutter, demanded layers for your lion's mane. On date nights I blew dry your hair with my fingers while you fondled my breasts.
—your brown leather wallet with sixty-two dollars and a photo taken on the island of Lanai. I sat beneath a white gazebo that was covered with pink passion flowers, with my ankles crossed, hands folded in my lap, elegant in a silk sarong. Your 47-year-old “child bride” promised to a “much older 52-year-old man.” I gave you your youth back. You gave me unconditional love. We knew we would love each other forever.
—your wedding band, the one we bought at Jerry’s Pawn Shop. I wanted the ninety-nine dollar ring special. You convinced me to upgrade. Jerry liked our style, and gave us a deal, “two for five hundred dollars, sizing included, free delivery to the hotel, seventy-two hours before the nuptials.” The wedding bands almost matched. Amma married us in a seven-minute Hindu ceremony, kissed our rings, cleared the pawn shop karma, imbued them and us with grace, showered rose petals and good fortune upon our heads, like the Goddess Maha Lakshmi Devi. We became an Amma couple. Magic.
—your restless leg medication, a knock-off brand, purchased in India, for a few rupees at a street side pharmacy.
—Your glasses, toothbrush, travel-size toothpaste and floss, of course. Ibuprofen for the fever you thought would pass during the second stop on Amma’s tour.
—your Rudraksha bead, a sacred symbol of Shiva’s compassion lies lifeless now in a plastic Ziploc bag. The bead has shriveled, the leather strand dried. Without your body to ground it, the
amulet no longer emits rays from the sun or transmissions from the lokas only the Rishis could perceive. You wore the talisman around your throat until the emergency team removed it the night you arrived at the hospital delirious and unresponsive.
An Amma devotee had found you wandering deliriously in a dark alley, behind the Los Angeles Airport Hilton. Inside the Hilton, Amma, dressed in a shimmering gold and silk Devi Bhava sari, blessed and embraced thousands of people who came for an all-night celebration for world peace. Anugraha, a critical care nurse, whose name means favor found you. She sat you down on a curb in your urine-soaked white pants, one shoe on, one shoe lost and called an ambulance. Then she called me.
“Get your ass on a plane now,”Anugraha said.
Two other devotees, Chi and Shuba, followed your ambulance to the hospital and put me on the phone with an E.R. doctor who needed your medical history.
“Puncture wound, infected, local doctor, Himalayas, Disaster-Relief Humanitarian Project, Amma Embracing The World, Seva, seventy-two hours, bus train plane, Kerala, Amma’s charitable hospital, I.V. drip, three days, never really healed,” I told the doctor.
They quarantined us in a small room far away from the ICU, dressed me in a yellow gown, blue mask, and blue gloves. I planted my feet on the other side of the medical industrial complex and gripped the sidebars of your deathbed. Medical professionals came, went, monitored tubes, wires, machines, entered notes into the computer, and avoided eye contact with me. A pulmonologist shook his head.
“When did Scott get back from India?”
“Four months ago,” I said.
“We did a spinal tap. It’s not meningitis. Paralysis, right side of the body, could be SARS,” a neurologist told the computer. You winced when a nurse raised the head of the bed. “Keep him flat, for God’s sake,” I said.
“It will help him breathe,” a nurse half my age and weight said.
You babbled, stammered, jabbered a rant I could not decode. Perhaps you were chanting the Hanuman Chalisa, bowing to The Son Of The Wind, The Holder Of The Bow. You could have been beseeching our Guru Amma for liberation from rebirth. Maybe you were in limbo. I was
“Is he seizing?” I asked a doctor.
She muttered, “It's an opportunistic infection. We don’t know what it is.”
The professionals left the room. I took a breath, took in your body, kissed your sweaty age-spotted brow and prayed as if my life depended on it. It sure as hell did.
“Scottiji. What’s up?” I tickled your cheek with my fluttering eyelashes, a sex trick that always aroused you.
You tried to wipe away the tubes and monitors with your left hand. You knew you were dying. I knew it too, late last night when Anugraha called. I packed a bag with some clean underwear for us and took the five a.m. flight from Portland to Los Angeles. I knew I’d be coming home a widow.
The hospitalist, pulmonologist, cardiologist, neurologist and two nurses ran into the room.
“Scott’s oxygen levels are dropping. We have to intubate,” someone yelled.
“No,” I yelled. “No heroic measures. It’s in his Advance Directive.”
“What else is in his Advance Directive?” a doctor smirked.
A nurse checked the computer for your medical records but couldn’t find your Advance Directive in the system.
“D.N.R.” I said. “Do Not Resuscitate.”
“What about antibiotics?” another doctor huffed.
Trick question. Shit. Of course I wasn't going to deny you drugs.
“We believe we can isolate and contain this infection,” a different doctor said.
“Your husband will be hospitalized but he will recover.” All the physicians puffed up in their white coats and nodded in accord, four bobbleheads in a row.
“We do not consider intubation to be a heroic measure,” the puffiest one said.
“Bullshit,” I said. A nurse turbo-typed notes into the computer. This conversation went into your medical records.
“What else is in Scott’s Advance Directive?” a doctor crooned in her best dulcet tones.
“Opioid analgesics titrated upwards even if it affects his breathing, '' I said in my best patient-advocate, power-of-attorney, personal-autonomy, death-with-dignity, expert-spouse voice.
Four doctors and two nurses stared at me. You just laid there waiting for me to figure it out. I was grand-standing, stalling for time. This wasn’t a conversation about palliative care. This was about the hospital's risk-management, cover-your-ass, standard of care.There would be no comfort for you or me. I nodded yes. I let them intubate you.
“Call the crash cart,” a doctor told a nurse.
“Code Blue.” The hospital alert blasted in the hallway.
Oh Scotti please forgive me for once in our marriage i wanted to be right what an arrogant fool i was to think i could stop the wheel of karma Shiva danced a battle raged inside you Sepsis decimated your white blood cells poisoned your organs devoured your muscles overpowered your heart great empires fell like in the Bhagavad Gita you were Arjuna on the battlefield a warrior who could not would not fight once again you were a conscientious objector who crossed the border into a foreign land surrendered your identity and disappeared into the blue mountains.
Four people in scrubs burst into the room with the crash cart. Someone demanded I leave, a doctor rammed a tube down your throat, someone in scrubs insisted I leave and escorted me out into the hallway. Screw them. I turned on my heels and braced myself in the doorway.
Yama, the god of death, came from the underworld to claim you. Your pacemaker switched off from the shock. You left your body. Four doctors and two nurses froze. The crash team butted up against the wall. I ran into the room, pushed a doctor with a stethoscope aside and called the time of death. 12:49 p.m.
The cardiologist confirmed my accuracy. The pulmonologist shook her head. The hospitalist looked daft. The neurologist was numb. Ten medical professionals stared at your body and wondered what had just happened here. You refused to be tethered to the netherworld. No persistent vegetative state, no limbo. You spared me that.
I ripped off my yellow gown, blue mask, blue gloves, looked for your soul, tried to see your sushumna nadi connecting the sun and earth stars with eternity. I cowered, kissed your feet,
circumambulated your bed and chanted,
“Asatoma sadgamaya, tamasoma jyotirgamaya, mrityorma amrtamgamaya, om shanti, shanti, shanti. Lead us from untruth to Truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.”
A social worker was summoned to contain me.
The elegant woman arrived offering apple juice and empathy. She stood guard at the foot of your bed, never taking her eyes off me as I sucked the high fructose corn syrup from a child-size carton. My icy fingers couldn’t grasp the pink mini-straw or the fact that you were dead. My spastic hands wiped beads of sweat off my upper lip. Sugar spiked through my brain. My eyes refocused. Yep. You were definitely dead.
The elegant woman watched over me while I used your phone to text friends that you were gone. Swami D. was the first to reply. “Amma knows.”
The social worker fetched a list of funeral homes, suggested I choose one on Los Angeles’ Westside to avoid transportation and mileage costs and stood by as I cold-called cremation facilities. The first funeral home wanted six thousand dollars.
No way in hell, I heard you say.
The second funeral home put my call on perpetual hold. The third gave me a ballpark quote of twelve hundred dollars.
Go for it, I heard you say.
I knew I needed to buck up, be here now. I gave the kind woman on the phone my credit card number. She faxed papers for me to sign to the desk at the nurses’ station. A cold metal clipboard held your death documents. Your body became hospital property.
“Sign here,” the nurse half my age and weight said, “And here. And here too. And one last time here.''
“Would you like to help me wash your husband’s body and prepare it for the morgue?” the nurse asked.
Oh Scottiji, I was afraid I would fall, lie, maybe die in a fetal position on the white linoleum floor. I wanted to be a good Brahman wife perform my duty without tears so as not to bind your soul to the earth plane wash your body with Ivory Soap, sponge the glue from your chest hairs where a monitor recorded your last breath and your veins from where the I.V. failed to cure scrub between your toes dribble suds over your cock trace the Sanskrit letters of your only tattoo the name Amma bestowed on me that means She Who Is Beyond Form your girl Gunaja
splash rosewater into your beard anoint your forehead with the marks of Shiva three stripes of sacred ash and a smudge of red kumkum on your third eye pray the Rigveda invoke the three worlds fourteen planes five spheres bring them down from the subtle realms into the mundane existence of a hospital room in Culver City.
I was weak. I asked the nurse to remove your wedding ring. I could not bear it if your body refused to grant me one last request. I could not separate your long elegant fingers, yank the gold band with seven diamond chips, break our bond with the Mother of the Universe, cast our Guru’s grace aside. The nurse removed your ring, placed it in my palm, a holy hand off. The ring gave me courage.
I kissed the dome of your head and ran my fingers through your hair for the last time. The nurse let me borrow a pair of scissors that felt cold against my skin. I sheared off a love-lock and wrapped your hair and ring in a blue handkerchief that you bought in India.The nurse gave me a Ziploc bag for your valuables. I felt like a fool with a death souvenir.
Nursing students came into the room to wash your body. I sat in the lounge with a Mamacita who told me her 93 year old grandfather was passing. I told her you were 62. She said you waited for me to come and say goodbye before you died. The lady stood and made the sign of the cross when she saw your cortege come down the hall. I stood, made the sign of the cross, pressed my palms together in prayer pose and gave you my very best Namaste. Two employees from the morgue took you away, feet first, shrouded in a snow white plastic body bag on a creaky stretcher.
There were no marigold garlands to shield your chest, no eldest son to light the pyre, fan the flames, no exotic woods of cork and mango to return your soul to the five elements. My second chakra screamed, “What the fuck?”
I knew better than to ask why. Why, was for fools. Why, would lead me deeper into suffering and antidepressants. Reason. Because God said so. Because your number was up. Because you'd annihilated the “Self” and pierced through the physical, causal, astral bodies and danced with the magnificence of Shiva. Because it was Friday June 17th 2016. The social worker walked me to the lobby and hailed a cab.
Your body lay in the morgue for twelve days while the HMO convened a mortality and morbidity study. Hospital officials conducted a peer review to determine the cause of your sudden death and cover their ass. I left hysterical messages with the morgue and funeral home
asking when will my husband's body be released? Nobody knew. The lead doctor called to apologize. She’d been on vacation and forgot to sign-off on your paperwork.
“Ok,” I said, too tired to fight.
Your body was cremated on the sixteenth anniversary of our second wedding, the one we had in our living room so your family wouldn’t feel left out. On the ninety-ninth day of your death, when the memory of our life seemed hazy, I took out Husband-in-a-Bag. I held the yellow hoodie and could not remember how it lay on your shoulders. I inhaled but your scent was gone.
Shiva, my rescue kitty, came to console me when I cried.
"Shiva, this is Scottiji, he loved cats too.” Shiva rubbed his whiskers on your hoodie and left some cat hairs on the zipper. He smelled you. I was jealous of Shiva.
I pack my Husband-in-a-Bag in that special box, climb up on the chair, place the box on the top shelf of the closet and let it rest. It will be there when I need it.
*Previously Published in Faith Hope & Fiction
Clare Simons was the press person and gatekeeper to the stories of the terminally ill patient-plaintiffs defending Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act in the U.S. Supreme Court. Her memoir Devoted - Faith, Doubt & Muddling Through nears completion. Spirituality & Health Magazine, The Write Launch, Manifest Station and The Official Muhammad Ali Website have published her stories.
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