Another nurse appeared in the doorway. “You can go in now and see his body.”
I turned my head straight to my minister. His intense dark eyes, framed by his silver glasses, met me with a wide, open expression, as though we were on stage, and he was waiting for me to say my next line. We marched together, past the curtains and glass cubicles, each step taking us closer to the room.
Spenser lay in a pristine white hospital bed, with the top half slightly inclined. The soft blue turquoise of the walls matched the blue flocking in his white hospital gown. The white sheets, folded over, covered him up to the chest. His arms were tucked under the sheets. The nurse had removed the ventilator, and the strip of tape that held it to his nose and mouth. His straight blonde bags were combed over his forehead, eyelids were locked and mouth was shut. He could have been mistaken for being asleep.
No, there was an unnatural stillness, a sense that the soul was no longer in the room. His pale frozen countenance, that would never draw the next breath, declared that he was dead. My initial repugnance over viewing the dead body was replaced by a probing, clinical kind of curiosity. I pried open his right eyelid with my fingers and viewed the familiar swirl of colors in his iris, the gold mixed with green, with a few flecks. The animated glow which formerly radiated from his eyes had been replaced by a dull, vacant stare, like that of a frog with fixed opaque eyeballs that never blink. His eyes were blanks.
“What did I do when I first saw Spenser, when you, Paul Parnell and I got to see his body?” I would later ask my sister.
“You stood at his bed, crying, and simply said, ‘Spenser, I will always love you.’”
Predictable, perhaps. Nothing really surprising. But it’s been fourteen years since the death, and now I dig out from under the rubble of the shock to record all the still snapshots from memory, to catalogue them in some sort of order, so I can dissect the visual elements in each frame, before they are all buried.
I grabbed Spenser’s hand, and clasped onto his arm. The body was still warm. I thought about gathering him onto my lap before rigor mortis set in, but he had gotten too heavy. He was taller than I had realized. Some of the blonde hair, so platinum when he was a toddler, was turning brown. At ten years old was he still my baby, or was he becoming a teen? But death had paralyzed his growth spurt so he wouldn’t be getting any older. I didn’t know what to make of all this, because I had spent his childhood years reading parenting books about daring to discipline and conferencing with teachers as alphabets danced across their walls, so I was starting to get the hang of how to parent a live child. Now I had a dead one
A friend of Tom’s who also worked in the hospital joined us, He sat, looked down at the .body, said nothing. It was the last Monday in April. Paul Parnell brought up the subject of the funeral, that it should be in a few days.
“No, I want to wait until Saturday, so people don’t have to take time off work,” I stated.
“I don’t think people will be concerned about getting off work for something like this.”
My friend Sharon had no vacation time, no sick leave, a stack of unpaid bills, and collection agencies calling. “No, I want to wait until Saturday.”
A young male hospital employee entered the room, dressed in green surgical scrubs, a gown and padded blue shoes. The lilt of his voice suggested concern, and his attention was focused on me, but I could not understand what he was talking about. His words darted all over, hid in cracks. He kept talking insistently, wanted something, would not go away.
“So you’re asking me to consent to an autopsy? Is that all you wanted? Yes, I have no problem with that.” I don’t know that I answered his question. Maybe he was talking about organ donation. During the autopsy, the pathologists sheared off Spenser’s his skull, so that when they sewed it back on for the funeral, there would be an ugly red scar circling his head.
About an hour passed. There was nothing much to say. But still I was with him, did not want to leave his side. His body was starting to stiffen up. I was not frightened or revolted by this dead body, lying there swollen and still, because it had been a part of mine. Since having Brendan and Spenser, tears, sweat, blood, poop, vomit didn’t bother me anymore.
Stan and Brendan had just arrived. A murmur of voices indicated some confusion about who would inform them that Spenser had died, so I ventured out into the hall. I faced Stan as he came closer, unsuspecting, still dressed in his suit and tie from work. Brendan beside him, dressed in his school clothes of khaki shorts and a navy blue polo shirt walked straight ahead, his tranquil gaze warming somewhat at the sight of his mom. They were framed by the tiled linoleum floor and the glass curtains and cubicles as they came closer and closer.
“Spenser is dead,” I simply stated.
In the waiting room with the yellow vinyl chair, Stan started keening, a strange, high sustained sound, and Brendan sat sobbing on my lap. Because he was thirteen years old, he was kind of heavy, and I could feel his hip sockets pressing against my legs. I wrapped my arms around his waist and rested my head on his back.
Tough kid, Brendan. Composed and quiet, when he gazed at his brother’s dead body. First the divorce. Then this death. It was certainly not what I had ever wanted for him.
Brendan would stay home from school the next day. He would lie on his North Woods quilt with the cabins and black bears in his room, and even though he could hear the voices of condolence callers, he would not come out to greet them. The following morning, Brendan got up early, got dressed, gathered his books into his book bag, and caught the school bus. He said he didn’t want to miss any more classes or homework. After school he would bring home cards, handwritten inscriptions on folded white pages from other middle school boys, advising him to be a man and to be tough.
The afternoon wore on as I kept watch over Spenser. Five o’clock, six o’ clock, it had been several hours since his actual death. Tom’s friend stayed until the end, keeping a silent and doleful vigil.
Finally there was nothing more. I said one last goodbye to his body, then Tom, Brendan and I turned our backs to him and drifted past the waiting room with the yellow vinyl chairs into the hall. We wound through narrow hallways with signs leading to radiology or cardiology, caught an elevator and found ourselves in the airy, high-ceiling space of the main entrance, where many people buzzed around, following their daily routines, changing shifts.
We went through a revolving glass door and out into the late April afternoon. Some cars passed on the road, and green grass grew on the banks under the viaduct. As we headed toward the concrete parking lot, the warm air and natural sunlight embraced us, drawing us into the intoxication of spring. To think that outside Spenser’s hospital room, it had been like this all day. If dry leaves swirling in frigid eddies would have greeted us instead of the green blades portending resurrection, his death would have been more difficult to bear.
We drove home, saying nothing, watching the bright light fade from the horizon. We heated up leftovers and sat down in the green wooden chairs at the kitchen table, facing the wall with the morning glory wallpaper, three of us now, instead of four.
About the Author----------
This excerpt is from Searching for Spenser, a memoir that Margaret Kramar has written about the death of her disabled son, published by Anamcara Press in November, 2018. Dr. Kramar teaches English at the university level and lives with her family in northeast Kansas where they grow organic fruits and vegetables.