Written by Barbara Force
My husband, Dan loved buffalos. He had a small collection, both new and old, assembled over the years, including an old cast iron bank, and a modern cast brass figure. He felt that they straddled the time between the Old West and modern times, and also that they looked like a cross between the two worlds. One Christmas I gave him a children’s plush toy buffalo and it sat on his dresser for years.
The afternoon after Dan died, I was exhausted from crying and the emotional “letting go” of the last 31 days while he was on hospice. I was also numb. The exhaustion was an accumulation of dealing with two different cancers over the last twelve years. I was functioning on auto-pilot.
There were eight friends here, plus Noriko, the hospice nurse. All were talking, helping and comforting me and each other. Janice and Sue made coffee and sandwiches. Jeff and Russ removed the heavy medical equipment out of the bedroom. Wyn and Noriko removed all of the physical reminders of the ill and dying— pills, water, commode, walker, medication schedules, towels, extra pillows, pads, second recliner and extra chairs. The hospital bed couldn’t be picked up until the next day, so Russ lowered it flat, and Wyn put one of my old quilts on it. Lisa asked for some sage. Strangely, I had a bundle. She lit the sage and moved throughout the bedroom walk-in closet, dressing area and bathroom—doing a cleansing of the area with the fragrant smoke. She put the smoldering sage in a glass pie dish in the middle of the hospital bed, and I placed the toy buffalo next to the dish. I found a green, jade-like rock and placed it next to the other two items on the bed. The rock was smooth and cool to hold in your hand and belonged to Dan’s brother, who had died the year before. Eight of us formed a circle around the bed, holding hands. Wyn led us in a prayer, and read an American Indian poem, which I can’t find, but will later. She then encouraged each one of us to say something about Dan, if we wished. And when we each talked, we picked up the rock and cradled it in our hand. Everyone had something to say about this strong, thought-provoking and witty soul. We cried, and laughed, and cried. This time together was very spiritual and comforting.
After everyone finished speaking, Wyn closed with another prayer to speed Dan’s soul on it’s journey. We left the sage, rock and buffalo on the bed, and adjourned to the dining room for Mexican food, (one of Dan’s favorites) wine and beer, toasted Dan and told more stories and welcomed more visitors.
After Dan’s final diagnosis when he was placed on Hospice, Dan and I discussed Death as we had done several times in the past. This time I asked him to give me a sign from the other side—that he was alright-but not to scare me. He said he didn’t know, but he would see.
When I was ready to go to sleep that night, I knew that I needed to sleep in our bed—that I shouldn’t put it off. As I was getting ready, brushing my teeth, I looked at the clear counter top area—no schedules, no pills, no extra water. How strange. I felt, like I was in another realm, another body. To help me sleep, I took a sleeping pill,crawled into bed, and moved over to his side of the bed. He hadn’t slept in the bed in several months due to his medical condition, but it still gave me comfort. I had no dreams that night—the dreams would come later. When I awoke, my mind had cobwebs in it, but as these cleared away, the enormity of the past day hit me and I started crying. As I glanced over at the hospital bed, I smiled. The buffalo was on its’ side. Thank you Dan.