Washing Sheets

On this, the morning my second son left for his senior year of college, I am three days past his Grandma Jane’s funeral. We were all together, celebrating the joy of a life well-lived. Chins up, smiling, hugging, comforting. Being comforted, too, by our memories and her friends. On this morning, saying farewell again, when my heart closed itself against useless tears again, I needed to read, to find words to take me away from the place where I wanted not to cry.
I read about a pilgrimage. A friend is going to Ireland soon. Looking at richly colored photos, I began not only to see the landscapes, but to know my friend walking there, to pray for the Spirit to lead.
The feelings, this morning, in the reading and the praying, the grieving and the trusting, reminded me of Lockerbie. I’d read a play a few years back, “The Women of Lockerbie.” Forgetful, I couldn’t remember the name at first. Was it indeed in Ireland? No, I thought, but what was the name? It came to me at last, and I went to read a bit to refresh the memories.
Wikipedia had an article about Pan Am Flight 103, destroyed by a terrorist’s bomb, crashed into the tiny town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The article stated what I’d learned from the play, that, “The people of the town washed, dried, and ironed every piece of clothing that was found once the police had determined they were of no forensic value, so that as many items as possible could be returned to the relatives.”
So ordinary. So everyday.
Eleven people in Lockerbie died when the plane exploded on the ground. Two hundred fifty-nine human beings perished in the plane itself; some actually survived the crash and were found alive, though only for moments, by residents of Lockerbie. In the face of unfaceable horror, these open-hearted people asked, “What can I do to serve? I can wash.” How beautiful it was, imposing sanity and order and safety on an unsafe world.
My pain is not nearly so immense. But I can wash.
When I woke fully for the day, I went to the room where that son has been sleeping. It’s the dining room we turned into a music room, which we had changed into a curtained bedroom during Jane’s illness and stay here. I stripped the sheets and I washed them.
Then I came to my room, my safe place, the room I had given up to Jane for seven weeks during her illness. There was a shopping bag in the floor by the rocking chair where I’d sat to visit with her as she propped up in my bed. In the bag I’d stowed some sheets after she returned home, ready to pick up and go at a moment’s notice, to cover the hide-a-bed mattress in her apartment should she need me to come.
I’d used them once and brought them home, but hadn’t washed and put them away. No need, if they would be soon needed again.
They’ll not be needed.
I washed the sheets today. And I begin the work of making life make sense again, without the visits to the dear, caring doctors and nurses, without the long drives with time to reflect and meditate, without the company of her attentive and helpful friends. Without Jane.
Washing Sheets
I washed my sheets today.
Green and cool, smooth and soft,
they covered me
when I covered her with love.
I’ll fold them next,
edges lining up sensibly
in a life
on the edge of making sense.
I won’t ask why.
It was time.
They must be set for service
when called again.
Her sheets were white,
stiff and creased, very fine.
They suited her,
reflected and protected her.
I won’t ask why.
It was time.
She is set for service
and called away.
I’ll wash the memories,
fold them neat and orderly
for a time
with time to think.
I won’t ask why.
It isn’t time.
First, in faithful service,
I’ll wash her sheets.
Deborah L. W. Roszel
August 8, 2014

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