Our Bluest Day: November 14, 2015

My husband John Henry Herbert died at 4:38 AM. The hospice did not call me until after 7 with the news. I called JJ, our son, who took the Metro to East Falls Church, where I picked him up. At the hospice I got to hold John one more time. JJ took his dad’s hand. We said some sort of makeshift prayer over his body. The hospice official told us we needed to make arrangements to have John’s body picked up by a funeral home.

JJ and I went back to the little gray house with burgundy shutters on Rosemary Lane. Sitting at the table where we had been family comforted us. The walls of the house held us like arms. John’s spirit was palpable here. He was with us within these walls in a way he had not been at the hospice, where the ravaged shell he had become lay.

“What needs to be done?” I asked my son, who began to make a list. JJ is a great list-maker, and at that moment we became a team more so than we ever had before. I called Advent Funeral Home. They said they could see us right away.

JJ and I got into the car. As I backed out, I hit the tree beside the driveway. This shook me out of my numbness a little. I needed to wake up and pay attention.

We surveyed the damage. JJ said, “The mud flap fell off.” He put it in the trunk of the car and added, “No big deal.”
Still I was determined not to hit the tree again and managed to avoid it.

At the funeral home, we discussed that near the end John had expressed the desire to be cremated. His beautiful body had been destroyed by his disease. The funeral home director was kind and helpful. We chose a wooden box to put his ashes in and began to plan a memorial service to be held at the funeral home.

Over the week ahead, I wrote John’s obituary. JJ and I emailed and called friends and relatives. We planned the service and wake afterward at the Italian Café. I got the yard raked and bought lots of plants at Merryfield Garden Center. John loved plants. I was putting one foot in front of the other, trying to do the next right thing.

JJ wrote his father’s eulogy, which he delivered without notes. My son is articulate, humorous, and, dare I say, brilliant. Not that I remember anything he said, but I heard the laughter around me during the service and knew my husband and I had brought someone wonderful into the world. John’s other friends came forward to illuminate John’s quirky nature.

In the weeks and months ahead, I would feel as if I had opened a closet crammed with junk that fell out and engulfed me. But I had my son, my sister, and my friends beside me, helping me clear the path ahead. I could not have gotten through it without all of you. Thank you.

2 Responses to “Our Bluest Day: November 14, 2015”

  1. Pamela Wejman says:

    Ellen, What a touching story. I remember you talking with me during this time. I will always remember it as one of the most deeply intimate, honest, and heartfelt shares I have ever experienced. Thank you for the privilege.

  2. Martha O Whitney says:

    “trying to do the next right thing.” that is such a powerful, evocative phrase , Ellen. I remember the laughter, too, and though I did not really know John feel as though I had a beautiful look at him through JJ’s wonderful eulogy. You were both fine…someone[s] wonderful [in] the world. This is a beautiful tribute to family and life. Thank you for posting here, Ellen. Let’s get together.

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