There is a team of people who come to the aid of the victims when there is a sudden, unexpected death. There are the police, firemen, and paramedics, first of all, and secondly there is the coroner. These are the officials who step in to handle the crisis, care for the patient, make the horrific pronouncement, and deal with the thousands of immediate details.
But all of these people leave the scene as soon as the official details are complete, so there are others who arrive to bridge the gap between the emergency and safety.
Enter: the Victim's Assistance People.
It really is a good idea, especially for people who have nobody else. If there had been no family or friends at my house that morning, it would have been even more tragically lonely to be in an empty house, just hours after such an atrocity.
But my home was instantly filled with family and close friends, and the number only grew as the day stretched on. So, I didn't really need this woman, who really didn't know me at all, to come to my assistance.
Especially because she was alarmingly similar to a Saturday Night Live character.
(In the face of tragedy, there is almost always comic relief. There has to be. The crushing grief would swallow one completely if there weren't something absurd to break the tension. There simply has to be.)
She kept hovering over me. Perhaps her intent was to be at the ready, always available should I have a question, raise a concern, need a tissue, etc. But instead of standing nearby, she hovered just above my right shoulder. All morning long. I kept catching her in my peripheral vision, and I jumped every time. This hovering, silent, cardigan woman.
Always there. Hovering. (I promise this story is true, neither delusional nor a hallucination.)
When nobody was near me, when they were making one of the many phone calls or trying to piece together details, she filled the silence by talking to me.
About very strange things.
Suddenly, her hovering presence leaned in close, and she said in this eery, quiet voice, "You know, you could have his thumbprint if you want it."
I looked at her, awkwardly over my right shoulder. Not sure what to do with this.
She continued. "My brother-in-law died last year. His wife wears his thumbprint on a necklace around her neck. You could do that."
What? Thumbprint? Of all the things in and out of my mind right now, this is what she adds? I was so confused - I thought she was telling me to make a decision. I was suddenly thinking about ink pads, wondering if I had one in the house, and how in the world this was my job.
"Well, do I need to get it now?" I asked.
"Oh, no. It's just something to keep in mind. Technology can really work to your benefit. They can do amazing things now."
Amazing things. Technology. Noted. Got it. Please stop talking. Weird cardigan.
In another moment, she said, leaning in again in her awkward hover, "Do you have pets?"
Pets. Yes. Pets. A pet. We do. I do. He did. I do. "Um, yes. A dog."
"Pets grieve too, you know."
I looked at her blankly. Our neighbors had whisked Molly out of the house that morning, and I truly hadn't given her a second thought just yet. But apparently Weird Cardigan felt like that should be at the top of my list.
She continued. "When my brother-in-law died, his cat crawled in between the sheets of his bed and died the next day."
Did you seriously just say that to me? Did you honestly just lean in close and whisper that into my ear? Something about a dead cat between the sheets?
How on earth do I respond to this?
- I'm sorry about the cat. (?)
- Thanks for the warning about the dog. (?)
- Do you know any good pet therapists?
What on earth??
Instead, I said, "Um, I need to get out of this conversation."
I did. I said that. I would tyically say that I'm a girl with greater tact, timing, and clever exit strategies. But, honestly, my mind was as broken as my heart, and that was the best I could give her. I need to walk away from you.
At one point, when my dad entered the kitchen, she said, "Hey! Go Broncos!! They've had quite a season, haven't they?!"
My dad looked at her blankly.
I said, "Your sweatshirt, Dad. She's talking about your sweatshirt."
He didn't have a response either. Nor should he. My precious dad threw on the closest thing next to the bed when my frantic phone call arrived, and it happened to be jeans, a baseball cap, and a Broncos sweatshirt. It was a matter of urgent necessity; it really wasn't a statement of his team loyalty.
My parents tried to dismiss her. Repeatedly.
"We're okay. We really are. We are believers, and we know that Robb is in heaven. That really is the framework for how we'll deal with this, how we'll help her. We don't know how we'll get through the next few days, but we do know where he is for eternity. So we are okay. We will be okay."
Cardigan nodded. "Oh, good. That helps me."
Well, for crying out loud. I'm so glad. We would certainly want to help you.
She finally left. I don't remember how or when, if someone escorted her out, or if she finally realized she wasn't necessary. But she was finally gone.
And I realized, if anyone is going to acknowledge how weird that was, it has to be me. Nobody is going to break this emotional tension until I do. And I can. In this moment, I can.
I said, in an intentionally loud voice, "I would just like for all of you to know this: I like every single one of you a whole lot more than that victim's assistant. And her weird cardigan."
And the room spilled with laughter. In the midst, we laughed.
God bless that woman and her cardigan.
She gave me something to laugh about.