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48 Years

A third call came a bit after 5:00am, for a removal in Fall City, out past Redmond, in the hills where Microsoft country squires live with horse barns and acreage, amidst gnarly, meth-teeth trailer trash. Which is Ronald Harstein, the 65-year-old surviving husband of Liz? Will Shari and I muscle-carry the backboard through the tight doorway tolerances of a trailer? Or will we swing the wheeled-gurney wide and easy through the ample hallways of a Town-and-Country equestrian? Apple Maps shows the address as the latter. We get lost a couple of times and I call again. Ronald talks us through the directions on speaker-phone, but his thoughts and words are scattered. It takes over an hour, but we finally get there. The long, low-slung home is perched up in the hills, looking over a romantically foggy valley. It is beautiful. Ronald walks out to greet us, much more jaunty than on the phone—false cheer. His wife has died—cold to the touch when he awoke early this morning. The stated time of death on the call sheet is 1:00, randomly assigned. Ronald leads us in to the house, happy for company, having been alone for hours with his dead wife. Before he shows us where his wife is, he motions to the panoramic view, his prize and treasure, and invites us to partake. The view is his comfort now. And indeed, the sight is profoundly beautiful. The very best of the Pacific Northwest. The vista is his claim. A huge deck runs all along the view-side of the house. We spend moments looking. We are in an air-balloon riding among clouds, eyeing mountains in the distance. The scenery is spectacular.

Ronald finally shows us to the living room where Liz is lying, slack-jawed, with a jaundice of unnatural-seeming greens-and-yellows. She is the color of The Incredible Hulk—only with more yellow. She is lying facing the same clouds, out the picture window. Faure is playing quite loudly—Requiem. Op 48: Introduction. Kyrie. This was my first CD purchased in the mid-1980s at Wave in Tokyo. I played this precious $30 CD over and over, readying myself for the death of my first marriage. The notes are appropriately sad, yes, but big and full—not swampingly devastating. Ronald tells us we would be better off taking our gurney out through the sliding door onto the deck and around the side of the house to our van. We inspect that route and it is indeed the best way.

I back the van up to where the deck meets the circle driveway. Inside, we are efficient in shrouding Liz. Ronald is watching, just standing. We pass his inspection. We put the ugly quilt over Liz and wheel her in front of Ronald toward the sliding door. I ask if he needs another moment with her. He shakes his head silently, and his face breaks into grimaces. He is speechless. We wheel her out the sliding glass door onto the huge deck. Ronald follows us and stands inside the house. He wants to say something. We stop the gurney. He says, “That’s my wife of 48 years!” His face contorts, just shrivels, and he hurriedly shuts the sliding door. He stands facing us—a specimen of sadness. Glass separates the crying him from this beauty, from his departing green wife, from these relentless charcoal-suited grim reapers. We nod to him and wheel her up the deck and into the van. And it seems devastating and somehow wrong to leave that man in that big house by himself. It is not good that man should be alone. It’s totally fucked up. A man like him with all that ringing aloneness—the solitude could be withering. The soundtrack I imagine playing for him alone, behind glass, looking into the fog, without his wife of 48 years, is Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Op. 11. I doubt he can bear it. He is too far removed. He has no one. What is he going to do? By himself. In the woods.


Paul Boardman is a writer and inter-faith Funeral Chaplain and Celebrant living in Seattle, Washington. He grew up in Tokyo, Japan, and holds the farcically-named "Masters of Divinity" from Princeton Theological Seminary. Two of his enduring thematic obsessions in writing are: what constitutes a good life in the face of death/loss and the nature of yearning, even greed, for love. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in The Good Men Project, Gravel, Thrive Global, P.S. I Love You, Veterans News Report and ICCFA Magazine, and in the anthologies Grief Dialogues: The Book, Just a Little More Time, We Came to Say and We Came Back to Say. He is looking to place his memoir.