by Cheryl Dietrich
Jerome took care of everything before he died. He cashed out the stocks and bought a comfortable annuity for me. He paid off the mortgage, canceled his subscriptions to Fortune and The Atlantic Monthly, and hired a lawn service. Those last few months were a hive of activity, punctuated by bouts of illness following his chemotherapy. As soon as he felt like it again though, he'd be up and about, fixing the leaking utility room faucet, donating his law books to the local university, having his suits cleaned so he could give all but one to the Salvation Army.
I came upon him the day he was looking through the suits, still covered with cleaner's plastic. "I believe this navy blue with a plain white shirt will be most appropriate, don't you, Edie?" He didn't wait for my answer but held up two ties. "Which do you prefer?"
I picked out the red and blue striped one. He frowned. "Let's go with something a little more somber. The blue and gray will do."
I felt like asking him if he really wanted to spend eternity in a tie, but I knew it would sound flippant. In Jerome's book, just because the afterlife is a mystery is no reason to go sloppily attired. After he decided on his outfit, he asked me what I planned to wear. I hadn't thought about it before and suggested a black suit and hat. He vetoed these as "too Catholic." Instead, he pulled out a simple gray dress I hadn't worn since his retirement and paired it with a boxy black and white herringbone jacket--a perfect statement of restrained public grief.
That was the only time he asked me for input into the funeral arrangements. All forty-two years we were married, he'd sheltered me from life. Dying, he sheltered me from death. He made his own arrangements with the local funeral home, sat down with the minister to plan the service, selected the standard Bible verses and chose stately, Calvinist hymns, "A Mighty Fortress" and "Immortal, Invisible." He ordered a double tombstone with his name and mine, Edith Louise, Beloved Wife, so my future home will be ready for me.
Before he returned to the hospital for the last time, he took my Lexus in for its tune up and inspection. He'd bought me that car as a surprise for my last birthday, when we both knew the chemo wasn't working and he was dying. He told me, "Edie, I wanted to make sure you have a reliable car after I'm gone. I've bought an extensive warranty agreement. The dealership will call you to let you know when you need to bring it in." He was always thinking of me.
Now as I stand in front of his open grave in my tastefully understated mourning, tears spring to my eyes at the thought of the car, his last present to me. As always he was generous, thoughtful, and practical--and didn't ask me what I wanted. Dabbing my moist eyes with my widow's handkerchief, I struggle to pay attention to the pastor's prayer. But my mind keeps wandering to the ad I'm going to put in the used car section. As soon as I sell the Lexus, I can buy that red pickup I've wanted for years.
Cheryl Dietrich is a retired Air Force officer living in Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband, dog, and lots of free time. She's grateful to have the opportunity to overindulge in her oldest, truest love: words. She volunteers as a tutor of English as a Second Language. She's a founding member of the Asheville Women's Book Club and a two-time winner of the annual Altrusa of Asheville Spelling Bee. Most of all, she thrives on the pleasure of putting words together on pieces of paper to express ideas. She began taking writing classes and writing for pleasure two years ago. She's had several articles published locally and is now discovering the joy of writing fiction. Contact Cheryl.