Closure. clo·sure (klō′zhər) n.- A feeling of finality or resolution, especially after a traumatic experience.
His body had finally arrived at my funeral home. I brought his clothing in for Mark and Joe to dress him. I waited at my desk and talked to Betty. Mark rounded the corner and said “he’s ready.” I remember looking at Betty, saying to her “this will be the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life” Betty just looked at me. Her look said it all; what do you say to a wife going in to say goodbye to her husband?

This was the face, the face that I caressed for 11 years. The face I see in my children every day.

I turned the corner to the visitation room, and I saw the outline of his profile in his casket. I just stopped for a moment, looking back to Mark letting him know I was going to be okay, the look of dismissal to him. The next 15 steps made up the longest journey in my life. Step by step, I walked up to him. I don’t remember if I cried right away or just took in his features. This was the face, the face that I caressed for 11 years. The face I see in my children every day. I’m in disbelief that I’m standing there looking at my husband, devoid of life. It was familiar yet foreign. While much of it is a blur

husband's casket

My daughter Sarah (middle) and her cousins writing messages on his casket.

now, I remember pulling up a chair and sitting beside his casket. I reached out and touched his hand. We all know that bodies are cold, and rigid, but absolutely nothing prepares you for that feeling. I had touched several bodies at this point in my career, but nothing compares to touching the hand of your husband in this state. Once I felt that I didn’t touch his hand again. I had to hold something that wasn’t cold skin. I held his arm, and laid my head on the wooden edge. I laid still waiting for his spirit to say something to me, for some kind of revelation that didn’t happen. I looked at his face, and all I could notice was what was wrong. His lips weren’t set as full as they normally were, and he had cauliflower ear. I’m assuming I talked to him and stared at his face. What I wanted to see were the two freckles below and to the side of his left eye. My youngest son actually has two freckles in the exact same place ( and I tell my son of this fact frequently). I used to stare at those two freckles when I sat in the jumpseat while he was flying, and he’d turn and catch me staring. I walked around to look under his left eye and the freckles were gone, apparently covered up by make-up. It was then that I saw the suture from his head. They had done a full autopsy and I could see the suture knot. That discovery made me go back to my chair and sit down.
I learned something this day, something that would help me heal. And something I can empathize with when I speak to my families; there is a true separation from the brain to the heart when viewing your loved one. This does not happen for everyone, but it happened for me. We all know that the body in that casket is simply that, a body. It’s the turtle shell, this is how I explained death to my kids before this experience. The shell is just that. The protective outer case for the soul. The soul is removed from the body at death, as the turtle from its shell.

I just needed to see him, not to actually believe he was gone, but just to witness it myself.

Our analytical brain knows that the body is NOT the person, but try and tell your heart that. You couldn’t have convinced me of that while I was waiting for his body to be returned from San Diego. I craved to see that body; I thought it was going to be different then. I just needed to see him, not to actually believe he was gone, but just to witness it myself.
While standing there, my discovery of this fact was palpable. We don’t understand this fact at the visceral level until we experience it. It felt like I was worshiping something that wasn’t true. I felt a sensation of this lesson at a spiritual level beyond words. At some level, I walked away saying “this is not him.” He is not there. My heart wanted him to be there, but he wasn’t.
I respect and understand that not everyone can do this, or wants to do this. I had to do this, I had to experience the separation.
Since that day, I have guided, walked and held hands of others taking that same journey, that same walk as mine. I’m not sure if all of them feel the same way as I did, but I hope they do.