A Father's Journal / Thoughts on beating a dead ... spouse?
Updated 6:50 am, Thursday, February 6, 2014
A co-worker recently told me a story about going to visit her dying father-in-law in the hospital. She picked up her mother-in-law -- his wife -- and they drove to the hospital to see him.
When they got to his room and discovered the man had just died, the elderly wife began hitting the corpse, screaming, "Why did you die? Why did you leave me with this mess?"
As the woman kept striking her dead husband, my coworker didn't know what to you do. There are no etiquette books on the appropriate response when your mother-in-law is punching your dead father-in-law.
After the wife got tired and stopped, a nurse came in and explained to my co-worker that it was not that unusual an occurrence. Surviving spouses often are angry at their mates for dying and leaving them alone. It can manifest itself in many ways.
That's why I now have an arrangement. A good friend of mine has agreed to go with Laura to the hospital if things don't look good for me. Not if I just have a cold, but if it looks like I'll be going toward the light. He is to jump up and stop her if she appears to wind up for a swing.
When I asked him for the favor, he was a little confused until I told him the story. He agreed but had some questions. "What if your daughters approach your corpse -- should I stop them?"
"If they appear threatening," I replied
I told my wife the story and that I did not want her beating me in death. I told her I had asked some people to stop her if she tried.
"It would never occur to me to hit you after you are dead," she said
"I'm sure it never occurred to the dead guy's wife," I advised, "right up until she hit him."
"Would he stop me if I tried to hug you?" she asked.
"Why would you want to hug a dead body?" I asked. "That's kind of creepy."
I'm sure my co-worker's father-in-law never expected his corpse would be attacked. But it was. Here's how I imagine the poor guy's last conversation with his wife before he bought the farm.
Husband: "Come closer dear ... I guess this is it. I just want to thank you for 46 wonderful years together and that ... Are those boxing gloves you're putting on?"
Wife: "What? These? No ... they're ... hockey gloves ... yeah. The nurses on the third floor challenged us to a game after you pass ... and ... the game's at 2:30, and I want to stretch ahead of time, don't want to pull a muscle. So, if you don't mind ... could we move this along?"
Husband: "Sorry, I don't know what I was thinking. Let's see, 46 years, blah blah, blah, kids were great. Yada yada yada ... Hey, a few years back we had that great vacation in San Diego. That was nice."
Wife: "That was a nice vacation. We saw the killer whales at that animal park. Could you help me lace these up?
Husband: "Sure ... You know, they look deceptively like boxing gloves."
Wife: "They're not. Let's get back to the whole life flashing before your eyes thing."
Husband: "Okay ... kids, San Diego, that's about it ... Oh, wait. I forgot about the shirt you gave me a few Christmases ago. Very soft. Thank you. What was it made of?"
Wife: "It was a cotton-poly blend."
Husband: "Very soft. Well, I guess that's it ... I will now slip peacefully into eternal slumber with no cares in the world. I'll just rest here in peace. Good luck with your game today.
My wife assures me that I do not have to hire afterlife protection. "You are an organ donor," she reminded me. "They are going to take your organs. They are going to cut you up."
"I know," I said. "They can take my organs -- as long as you don't hit me with a couple of body shots that rupture a kidney and puncture a lung."
Now, I don't think Laura would actually hit me, but I can't be too careful.
I asked my mother to reflect back on life with my late father. She said, "Overall it was a good life, and he has been dead almost 10 years. But he did some odd things, and sometimes I still want to hit him."
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.