Personal effects of the dead have a special way of breaking your heart. A tiny, muddied bottle of mouthwash wouldn’t typically punch you in the gut. Find it in the bag of a man who hanged himself, and it’s a time capsule to an ordinary moment at Target before.
Belongings are unsettling because they reveal secret clues of the dead: plans, preferences, priorities. A corpse is a static, finite thing. But a creased photo of a loved one? That shit swallows you whole because it still feels alive.
This suicide in particular is a unique case: a missing person who ventured into the woods with an overnight bag and a noose. I lift him onto the cot, light as a lawn chair. He’s entirely bone by this point.
I’m fascinated by the watch on his wrist. Immaculate metal that once clamped tight around flesh now dangles loosely from an exposed joint.
After I place him in his cremation container, I lay out a plastic bag to catalog all of his belongings, which include moss-covered toiletries, the watch, a wallet, phone, and a photo I instantly know to be his wife.
How did paper outlast his own skin and nails?
I cross-check my inventory with that of the Medical Examiner’s; I overlooked a ring. I return to the hand of my skeleton friend and glimpse a dark grey band around his ring finger. His entire left hand is balled into a fist, obscuring the jewelry. When I learn that his wife preceded him in death, I wonder if he died feeling the bite of his wedding band pressed into his palm.
It takes time to remove.