Sunday Wake

By Susan DeBow

Sunday Wake

Sunday, my husband and I went to the wake of a 62-year-old former neighbor. We stood in the funeral home and watched a video of photos taken throughout the man’s life. As we watched his life, we saw our lives, too.

There were the photos of Bill, that was his name, growing up. He had the same impish face as a youth as he did as an adult. Then came the photos of Bill and his wife, Pat. In those years, Pat had dark brown hair. Now her hair is a starry blonde. In many of the photos, their facial expressions were much like my husband’s and mine during that time. Somewhat overwhelmed. Their three small sons were looking happy as larks, and the parents were sitting there looking a bit sleep-deprived and tense.

As the children grew older, the parents’ faces relaxed and the expressions on the faces of the kids became less frivolous. No doubt they had been coerced to be in the photos.

Lastly, were the photos of his grandchildren. I could see an ease in Bill’s posture as he leaned over his granddaughter to help her hold a garden hose. Bill walked along the beach holding his granddaughter’s hand, and he was on the floor with the grandkids at the family Christmas.

He was a picture of life, health and peace. He had made it to the other side of the raising children field and was now enjoying his grandchildren and wife and life. He had settled down from being the high-strung father on the side of the soccer field, the man who seemed to see his children’s success as a reflection of his own desire. And it wasn’t just him that I am talking about with that observation. It was all of us in our neighborhood, most of us a similar age, who sidled up to soccer fields and basketball courts to wish our children stardom on the court.

Four days before Bill’s death, Pat was at the neighborhood Bunko, laughing and drinking wine. Everyone said how lucky she was to have her three grown sons and four and a half grandchildren living near. She agreed. The arduous years of worrying about raising children and paying for the house were behind them. They were in the time of their lives they had both worked so hard for. Laughter came easily. Death was something that happened to others.

Even so far as our neighborhood goes, the last few years, we have gone pretty much unscathed. A knee replaced, bouts with cancer, followed by remissions…aches and pains abound, but laughable ones when discussed together and not in hushed tones, not bad for a neighborhood with about fifty households. And even though Bill and Pat had moved to another neighborhood a few years ago, they remained part of ours.

When another neighbor, Kathy, called me, I asked if she had a cold because I heard her sniffling. “No,” she said. “I’ve been crying.”

I knew that wasn’t good. Although we are friendly, I am not the neighbor Kathy would ordinarily call in tears.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Bill Bails died today.”

I was caught off guard. “Oh no,” I said. “What happened?”

Kathy sobbed as she told me that he died after using the treadmill. He and his wife bid each other goodbye, and Pat went out to do errands. Bill was on the treadmill. When she returned, he was on the floor. Gone.

No more conversations. No more grandpa kisses. No more hugs or cuddles or quick-witted remarks.


In my mind I have always figured I would have time for goodbyes. My husband, too. He has had cancer. Cancer, as awful as it is, gives you time. Time to get things in order. Time to say I love you. Time to say goodbye.

But what if I’m wrong? What if death’s only warning is a sudden drop to the floor or a silence in the morning? What if it comes when we are alone?

These are things that are uncomfortable to talk about. Even worse than discussing weight.

“I never thought Bill would go first,” said one of his two brothers. I wasn’t part of the conversation. At funerals, it is easy to eavesdrop. A group of people stood in front of another television screen watching the loop of Bill’s life. No one spoke. No banter or witty repartee. Just sadness. Not only for Bill, but for each of us, who, someday, will be the life on the video screen.

Pat looked so slight standing amidst the people waiting to hug her and give her condolences. She wore black. I’d never seen her wear black. It didn’t look right on her.

My husband had told me before we went into the funeral home that he never knew what to say. I told Pat I was sorry for her loss. My husband followed my lead. As I hugged Pat, I said nothing. The hug was my comfort.

The flowers were beautiful. Lots of reds and yellows. Color on this dark day.

In Bill’s coffin were pictures of grandchildren and a piece of paper that had a paint splotch, a piece of grandchildren art.

As we left, we passed another neighbor. We hugged. That was the language of the day.

As we got into our car, I noticed a sign for the funeral home that mentioned crematorium services. I pointed that out to Nick. “Maybe we could use those services when we go,” I said.

Nick said, “I could sure use a beer.”

About this writer

  • Susan Hipkins DeBow Susan Hipkins DeBow is a writer and artist. A hobby of hers is watching Law and Order reruns and then going around telling people she wants to make a “collar on the perps,” and demands a “remand.” She got hooked on Law and Order reruns after seeing Seinfeld reruns 20 times. You can read Susan’s work and see her art, photography and miscellaneous miscellany at If you are nice, she’d like to be your friend on facebook. Go to her Facebook page, Ohio Writer Girl.

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