8/28,29 The Book of August

Monday morning, 2 days after Debra died I made the trip to Decatur, Il where the girls had been born and we had lived until the previous month.  I immediately went to the funeral home to see Debra, but was stonewalled.  The director quietly but persistently suggested that her body wasn’t available to be viewed to which I insisted on knowing when it would be to which he implied never.  Though he meant well, I wasn’t to be deterred.  By god this was my child, no one could tell me I couldn’t see her.  I already prayed that there had been some huge mistake and they had found someone else’s body.  It could happen.  Stranger things have happened.  But short of pulling out a gun, this guy wasn’t cooperating.

I left and in desperation I called the therapist that we had seen when my husband was trying to save our marriage.  He offered to go to the funeral home, and later told me that he had arranged for me to go in the morning.   He begged me to be satisfied with holding her hand and not remove the covering over her head, that I didn’t want that image in my mind forever.

The next morning my sisters Carole and Helen along with Mary and I went to the funeral home.  Carole stayed downstairs with Mary who was absolutely demanding to see her sister.  They had always been so very close and she was suffering terribly and surely had many of the same hopes in her mind that it wasn’t really Debbie.

We walked into a chilly room and she was on a table, draped with a sheet with a towel over her head.  My knees started to buckle and Helen helped me stand.  I reached down under the towel and felt her hair on the back of her head.  I knew the feel of her hair.  The director lifted the sheet slightly revealing her left hand.  She was in a clear plastic body bag, with elastic around the wrist.  She smelled of rotten meat.  I asked him if she had been embalmed and he delicately explained that she was to the extent that she could be.  I picked up her hand–rigor mortis had left.  It was soft and pliable.  She had curiously upturned fingertips.  It was unmistakably her hand.  But I just wouldn’t, I couldn’t believe it.  I needed more proof.  Debbie had a birthmark down the back of her right leg and I wanted to see it, but he said that wouldn’t be possible.  So I came up with another challenge.  She had a curved scar on her left knee, caused by of all things, a propeller blade when she had slipped climbing the ladder on last year’s lake trip.  He pulled the sheet aside slightly, to reveal her lower leg and I pressed the plastic to her knee and there was the telltale curved scar.  I had to give up then and accept the reality.

I then brought Mary to that surreal room all the while afraid she might snatch the towel away.  She knew Debra’s hand and held it lovingly.

Later at the motel, taking Mary aside with just the two of us in private, I asked by baby to tell me what happened.  The first words from her mouth were, “I killed Debra.”  The pain in her eyes was horrific.  It doesn’t matter how many times I told her no you didn’t, it wasn’t your fault, none of it, the scar runs deep.  Her heart was broken.  To this day, Robin believes that the groundwork for Mary’s heart condition was laid the day Debra died.

2 Responses to “8/28,29 The Book of August”

  1. Dear Sharon, My heart hangs heavy with this scene. I hesitated to read it, but I had to. As a mother, I had to. I don’t know the proper words to comfort you but know my heart is heavy with your pain and sorrow.


  2. You are very eloquent. Thank you


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