Most of my first impressions come from behind the zip of a body bag. I meet people open-mouthed, partially-clothed, in various states of medical intervention. Tubed, diapered, bandaged, and blanketed. My brain makes automatic Midwest-nice small talk:
“Sorry we had to meet this way, Phil. No worries about the smell. Allow me to elevate your head!”
Death is as honest as birth, so I go about my work unbothered. The aftershock hits when I see family photos later in the day.
“UM PHIL? YOU DIDN’T TELL ME YOU WERE FORMERLY RYAN GOSLING.”
Seeing a human rewind from extreme vulnerability to peak vitality is trippy. When all your mind knows is Dead Phil, it is haunted by Living Phil. The photos of weddings, birthday parties, and babies become the real ghosts – not the body in the cooler.
Clearly the adult diaper is a total coverup for all the punani Phil used to get.
I obsessively skulk around the funeral photo boards to piece a lifetime back together. A blur on a forearm was once a gorgeous tattoo. The arthritic hands I washed once held on for dear life on the back of a pig. What’s with the toy plane? He had dreams of learning to fly.
It’s so much more than the pain of growing older. It’s the realization that everyone is missing a piece of someone all of the time. The someone who traveled, the someone who told dirty jokes, the someone who sang on Sunday mornings.
Not necessarily the someone I held in my arms.