That was His

We’ve already established the wave of emotions a simple phone call can bring about in the world of funeral service (see the story of the Dughead brothers). A person reporting a death can strike fear into your heart and lead to anxiously wondering what exactly is about to happen. Will this be the usual, or will it be something wild? The problem is, you don’t know the answer until you get there.

There is one exception to the above rule however: county investigator calls. When you hear the voice of the county investigator, you know for a fact it’s not going to be normal or easy or good. There is no wondering. You see, the county investigator (in the rural areas of my part of the world, at least) is the person who travels to the scenes of abnormal deaths: suspicious or unusual circumstances, people found by family members, visitors, or strangers, and the like. Things you might describe as fishy. You may end up on the side of the road, in the woods, in a field, by a creek, at the river, under the little bridge past the Walmart—anywhere. Do any of those sound like fun at all? No. Not that any death is fun, but some are at least routine. County investigator calls are absolutely not.

Imagine, now, the week-and-a-half span in which the county investigator called us three different times on three different occasions for three different people. Each situation was essentially the same, a guy died at home alone, and no one knew for a period of weeks. Listen, you may think you know what happens when a person dies and isn’t discovered for a long time, but, unless you’ve experienced it yourself, I bet you don’t. There was an old funeral director who used to say, “You know it’s bad when you get to the house, and a green fly comes out puking.”

The third of these calls was the worst. We all just hung our heads when we heard who was on the phone. Some may have wept. I was the one who answered, so I dejectedly jotted down the information and prepared to go. Another funeral director, Derrick (name changed, obviously), had already dealt with the first two, and I really didn’t feel like he’d done anything to deserve another. Then, for some reason, in a surprise move Derrick volunteered! I tried to talk him out of it, but I think he wanted to be able to tell the story of the time he had to go on “all three of those calls.” Funeral directors have weird badges of honor. Either way, Derrick went, and he was accompanied by Gerald (who I think just wanted to get out of the building) because we always sent two people to homes.

At the house there were sheriff’s cars, law enforcement personnel, an ambulance, and EMTs.

Quick Lesson: When someone dies unexpectedly at home or really anywhere besides a medical facility or under hospice care, people think the funeral home is the first notified. Nope. Usually it’s the ambulance service and/or law enforcement. From that point, if necessary, they contact the medical examiner or coroner depending on the policies set forth in that particular county, state, etc. If the medical examiner or coroner gets involved, it may be days before the funeral home even officially finds out anything happened.

Derrick and Gerald opened the car doors, and, though the man was inside his house, evidence of his condition wafted through the yard and straight into the vehicle. You know those green flies I mentioned earlier? Well, they weren’t puking at this place because enough time had passed that they were already dead, so now add the crunching of dead flies under your feet into the mix. Derrick immediately regretted volunteering. Gerald was oddly fine. Once they entered the living room, there the man sat in his recliner. Think about that for a moment: his recliner. Have you ever had to figure out how to get a full-grown person who is unable to assist you at all out of a recliner? Take a minute. Now think about having to solve this problem in a suit. It’s not easy. Dry cleaning is expensive.

While Derrick and Gerald were contemplating how to get the man out of his chair without ruining their shoes, a sheriff’s deputy was speaking with his wife who, as you can imagine, was inconsolable. She could hardly speak she was so upset. The fact is that she had been away visiting her mother for a period of weeks. She and her husband spoke but not regularly, and it had been quite a while since their last conversation. By his appearance, he didn’t make it too long after that. She just sat there crying, unfairly blaming herself, and answering the deputy’s questions as best she could while trying to remain just this side of hysterical.

In a situation like that, there’s only one thing for funeral directors to do: look around the house. Not in a creepy, snooping way, but by simply observing you can learn a lot about the person and family you’re about to deal with. It’s a trick you learn early. They taught it to us that in mortuary school. You can learn how many kids/grandkids/great grandkids there are, where the person worked, hobbies, interests, military service, political and religious beliefs, club memberships—all kinds of things just from looking at what’s on the walls and tables—and that’s exactly what Derrick started to do. He stood near the deputy remaining completely stationary, but his eyes were wandering checking family portraits, movie collections, books, anything he could see from his position. Then he looked down.

What Derrick saw there under the coffee table was the biggest bag of pot he’d ever seen in his life. It was just sitting in plain sight right at the feet of the new widow and the sheriff’s deputy, yet no one else had noticed. Derrick darted his eyes upward, so he wouldn’t draw attention to his discovery because this was Tennessee where marijuana was not (and still isn’t) even legal medicinally let alone recreationally. What Derrick saw when he looked up, however, was the deputy looking him square in the face. Their eyes met, and then the deputy slowly lowered his head peering below the coffee table. This whole time, the wife was still crying, holding her face in her hands unable to see and, thus, had no clue what Derrick and the deputy had found. As she continued sobbing, the deputy knelt down and picked up the bag. When she finally pulled herself together enough to continue the conversation regarding the dead man in the recliner, the love of her life, she looked up wiping tears from every part of her face to see a sheriff’s deputy standing over her holding an enormous bag of weed that he had found in her home. She looked straight into his eyes. Every tear in her head dried up. Her posture changed. She sat up perfectly straight, and then calmly, clearly, and confidently she spoke.

“That was his.”

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