gargoyle@flagler.edu As soon as I touched her wrist I felt ice. It is a feeling that you don't expect. Touch the desk in your room and it's room temperature. Touch a dead body and quickly discover just how cold it is after heat and life have evaporated. The chills down your spine don't compare." />

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A somber reminder of beauty in the face of death

July 18, 2012 3:47 pm by: Category: Opinion, Resolution and Independence 11 Comments A+ / A-

Phil GrechBy Phil Grech | gargoyle@flagler.edu

As soon as I touched her wrist I felt ice.

It’s a feeling you don’t expect. Touch the desk in your room and it’s room temperature. Touch a dead body and quickly discover just how cold it is after heat and life have evaporated. The chills down your spine don’t compare.

After the police finished an investigation of the room where my best friend’s wife, Katie, died, they left the scene. Mike was laying on an outdoor chaise lounge of the balcony at the house overlooking Lake Oconee. I walked over to him, but had no idea what to say.

We were there because our friends Brandon and Jackie were getting married. I was a groomsman in the wedding. On the morning of the ceremony, we woke up to discover that Katie had passed in her sleep.

I couldn’t ask how he was doing. That was a ridiculous question, so I asked the only question I could think of: “Is there anything I can do?”

He looked at me from behind his sunglasses. “Can you perform a resurrection,” he asked.

“Of course not,” I told him.

“Then no,” he replied, “there’s nothing you can do.”

I left him in silence.

The remaining 16 people who had been staying at the lake house had no idea what to say or what to do. We should have been preparing for a wedding. Celebrating the coming together of two people, not mourning the separation of two others.

On the long drive to the lake house, Katie had talked about how far apart everything is in rural Georgia. Then she pondered, “I wonder how long it would take for an ambulance to reach you if something happened.” She told us how she would want her funeral to be performed and how she would want to be remembered. (She will never know it, but Mike did everything she had asked).

That morning I woke up at 9:30 a.m. Mike was screaming for someone to call 911. He was standing over her, trying to shake her out of sleep. Out of death. Before I opened my eyes, my hand scrambled across the nightstand for my cell phone. I called 911 and told them we needed an ambulance.

Katie lay in bed, her hands still clasped together, supporting her head as though she were still asleep. Her brown hair laid gracefully across her pale face. Her facial expression was peaceful and happy. It was as though she fell asleep thinking of happy moments, then never woke up.

It was fitting — a final symbol of how she lived her life. How much she loved the simple things. How rich and bonded their mutual devotion was. I have never seen it in another couple. It’s what I hope for one day.

Neither one of them ever needed anything because the other was always there to provide it. Before one sneezed, the other was already making chicken soup. Before one had the chills, the other was reaching for a blanket.

I never saw them fight or bicker. Only laugh. And sing. They sang to each other — something you don’t often see. I wonder if I will ever see that in another couple.

The responses from Katie’s friends were just as diverse as the people themselves. My friend Todd said to me, “It would have been nice if Mike had gotten to say goodbye to her.”

“That doesn’t matter,” I told him. “He showed her every day.”

No doubt she laid in bed that last night knowing that she had loved, was loved, and still is today.

Thankfully, all of Katie’s friends were open to talking. That openness isn’t as common as it ought to be. I never understood how people get squeamish or uncomfortable when discussing death. Why not talk about it, though? It reminds us of our mortality, but also how we need to reevaluate our lives — to live purposefully.

We often avoid these questions. It is easy to be slowed down by the dampness of ordinary life — to fall into its catatonic surrender. But shouldn’t we be reminded of our mortality? Our own mutability?

There have been dozens of times since that day that I’ve stopped myself from complaining. Kept my mouth shut over a petty grievance. I remind myself that I should be spending more time thanking and appreciating, and less time complaining or worrying.

It can be hard to remind yourself to live a “beautiful life.” I want my life decisions to have purpose — to be enriching and rewarding. But it’s easy to forget when stuck behind the idle car at the green light.

That’s what Katie has taught me. That’s her legacy now. That I need to learn to take deep breaths. To remind those who are close to me that I love them and care about them. I want to show them.

On the hour and a half drive to Atlanta, where the emergency responders took Katie’s body for her autopsy, Mike leaned his body against the passenger door. His head was propped against the window as he held a can of High Life in his right hand.

The road was quiet and smooth as the car hummed along. Mike started singing in Irish Gaelic. The song was “Óró, Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile.” It means, “You are welcome home.”

“That’s a song Katie and I used to sing to each other,” he told us afterward.

As the car sped toward Atlanta, we sat silently. Mike had stopped singing. We weren’t sure what to discuss — what to say to break the silence. Finally, someone cracked a joke. It loosened up the air, but not much. We reached the airport where Mike was meeting his sister, and we turned around and headed back to the wedding.

I had just enough time to put on my black and red tuxedo and drink a Guinness before the ceremony. After the wedding, the celebration moved back to the lake house. I hadn’t had a chance to be by myself the entire time. I walked out to the dock that stretched into Lake Oconee and lost it. My tears fell into the lake. I gathered up my stuff, left the house and got a motel room.

After checking in, I touched the desk in my motel room. Cool, but not ice. I was still here, still breathing, still warm. The ever increasing stack of unpaid bills accumulating in my small apartment no longer mattered. The next morning I woke up, checked out of the motel, and drove home.

Two months after Katie’s death, the coroner’s report came back. We had all wondered how she died and now we had an answer. Only it wasn’t an answer. The cause of death: undetermined natural causes. Two months of waiting and we hadn’t learned anything. Only it didn’t matter. The cause of death wasn’t as important as the legacy she left behind, and what she had taught us with her beautiful life.

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A somber reminder of beauty in the face of death Reviewed by on . By Phil Grech | gargoyle@flagler.edu As soon as I touched her wrist I felt ice. It's a feeling you don't expect. Touch the desk in your room and it's room tempe By Phil Grech | gargoyle@flagler.edu As soon as I touched her wrist I felt ice. It's a feeling you don't expect. Touch the desk in your room and it's room tempe Rating: 0

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Comments (11)

  • flv mac

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  • Tracey Eaton

    My condolences to family and friends. This story is a moving tribute to a loving couple. The coroner’s report is unfortunate. It’s true that knowing why Katie died won’t bring her back. But while reading the story, I wanted to know more about the cause of death – even some of the possible causes. How often are there deaths of ‘undetermined natural causes’? Don’t some families protest that kind of determination and want to know more?

  • sathel

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  • Patti

    Please tell Mike for me that it really didn’t matter about not being able to say goodbye. It would seem, by your description, that the value of what they shared was evident and known to them both- not needing any further words to define it. She knew it as he did I am sure. Words are wonderful vehicles for conveyance but not the only ways. She holds his heart as he held hers.

    Your piece was beautiful.

    patti

  • Dawn Harvey

    Phil that was beautifully written. You were able to put into words what others weren’t able to, including myself. I want to say that I met alot of heroes, and alot of strong, loving, and very caring young people that day. The night before she passed was a beautiful and very loving atmosphere. Katie and Mike were surrounded by friends, old and new, there was laughter, music, and memories. I am still struggling with the right words. Two journeys took place that day, I wish there was only one. Thank you for writing this, it is beautiful.

    Dawn Harvey, (Brandons mom).

  • susannah samuel

    Thank you so much Phil for sharing this with us. It means alot and thank you for being there for our Mike.

  • Christopher Altermatt

    Thank you Phil.

  • Jessica White

    A beautiful tribute and a timely reminder to be thankful for every day. I didn’t know Katie but I’m a friend of her parents and I know this reflection will bless them. Thank you for sharing.

  • Donna Noble

    Thank you for this amazing tribute and heartfelt reflection about my cousin Katie. When my husband passed away, I had a few months to absorb the reality of his illness… But you, her friends and immediate family, had to live through an unreal and unexpected shock, for which there is NO preparing. Your sweet words help us heal and accept, and give comfort beyond measure to know the joy in Katie’s life!

  • Susan Altermatt

    Thank you Phil, for a beautiful tribute to our daughter- such a lovely spirit. Thank you for honoring their relationship and marriage also, and to Mike, a wonderful man and husband. It was eye-opening to read your story, since her father and I were not there you have been kind to share these remembrances with us and help heal our hearts.

  • Breanna berry

    Well put Phil.

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