“How many towels, d’you think we need?” I asked my partner.
“I dunno… Six?”
“Hmmmm,” I said before reaching out and grabbing handfuls of towels, washclothes, and a hospital gown. “This should be plenty.”
We both sighed, and turned back out of the linen closet.
As we got to her room, I turned again to ask another question. “She doesn’t have Large gloves in there, does she? I don’t think she does… Would you mind grabbing some for me?”
My partner replied “sure,” and went back towards the supplies.
I opened the door and walked into her room. Ada** lay out on the bed, her skin drained of color, her mouth open and her eyes closed. I had watched Ada die merely an hour before.
I laid the towels down on the counter as my partner returned and handed me some gloves.
“You’re gonna have to help me through this, Emma,” she said.
I assured her I would do most of the washing itself… But clearly I’d need her there to help me hold her up as necessary.
I went into the bathroom and grabbed a basin to fill with soap and water so that we could clean her up before the mortician was due to arrive.
I turned on the faucet and out of habit I felt the temperature to wait for it to warm. I quickly realised; however, that there was no need to worry about that. “I guess it doesn’t matter if the water is warm or cold now,” I stated out loud.
I then cracked a small smile and my partner responded in what I assume was surprise at the minor joke.
Neither of us had ever performed Post-Mortem care before, so we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. My partner asked if I thought she’d be stiff yet. I told her I don’t think rigor mortis set in quite that fast. We gently reached out to touch her as we came around the sides of the bed. We could feel the cold through our gloves, and we determined she was limp, not stiff.
We raised Ada’s bed and took off the bedclothes so that we could strip off her clothes. Then turned the lights on a little brighter and opened the blinds… You know, to ease the creep factor.
As we took her shoes and socks off I told my partner about how this morning Ada and I carefully picked out her clothes, debating over which shirt would not only match her new navy pants the best – but also be the most comfortable. After she came back from her morning physical therapy she lamented in jest at how no one had complimented her outfit. I sighed for the fact that it seemed so trivial now.
We used the draw sheet to turn her towards me so I could take her shirt off. As I pulled the first sleeve up, her arm flopped out quicker than I expected. My partner let out a giggle of surprise, quickly composed herself and said “I suppose I shouldn’t laugh at that.”
“Laugh,” I said. “You have to laugh in these situations. When I worked at the hospital in Tennessee most of the nursing staff had a pretty dark sense of humor. I’ve since realised that most medical personnel do… It’s just… You gotta laugh; otherwise you’ll cry.”
She nodded and then moaned.
“Emma… Her eyes are opening. Please… I can’t… Will you shut them, please?”
I reached over and gently pressed her eyelids shut again.
We finished washing her up, placed her in a hospital gown and covered her back up with a blanket before cleaning up our mess.
A short while later the funeral home staff arrived to take her body away. There was an announcement over the loud speaker indicating that staff should stop what they were doing and line the way out to the main entrance – to show respect for Ada as she went through our doors one final time. The mortician and his assistant wheeled her out of her room on a stretcher. She was covered by a quilted blanket with a smaller blanket across the middle that had a large butterfly with the words “Fly Free.”
Only then did my eyes start to burn with the threat of tears.
***Ada’s name has been changed