Like a paper cut, the bureaucracy of death hurts in a way that is disproportionate to the act itself. It seems innocuous, procedural, harmless, and sterile. It is none of those things. The paperwork of death is an onslaught, a violent, graphic, forceful jolt into a reality you do not want to occupy and do everything you can to escape.
Don’t let her see them take the body away. Send her to go get the death certificate, it’s just a trip into an office – Births, Deaths, Marriages, it’s just an office.
Others insist that I politely reply to all the sympathy notes, when I could hardly reply to the thoughts in my own head. I still can’t find the energy to reply to them, to thank them for their sympathy. My ineptitude in this small matter of paperwork, of etiquette, tortures me at times, until I push it away and forget about it. I’m sorry I can’t say thank you, your sympathy is noted and appreciated, I’m just too broken to find a way to write anything else.
“Why are you here on your own?!” asks the woman in the social welfare office. Well who else could do this task other than me, the widow? The paperwork of the widow is of course, the widow’s job. I tell her “it’s okay, I’m in shock, I can’t feel anything, let’s just keep going”. I can of course feel everything, I feel too much. I leave feeling disemboweled, my insides somewhere on the floor in an office in Anne Street, never to return to my body again. I’ll never have all the bits of me back, the bits all the paperwork tore out of me, like loose copybook pages, every time I had to retell the story, explain my situation, adopt the appropriate facial expression, suppress the wrong facial expression, hide my anger and confusion, try to make them feel okay so they didn’t get embarrassed by my horrific situation. Try not to crumble – If I crumbled I wouldn’t get back up and it would be such a mess for them to have to try to scrape me up off the floor. I’d put them out, I’d feel bad all crumpled on the floor, worry about them.
The Death Certificate – I constantly need another death certificate. Another trip to Births, Deaths and Marriages. The same conversation – “so young…my god, what happened…you’re poor little girl” I honestly don’t know why they don’t just print out the piece of paper silently and hand it to me. I obviously don’t want to retell this story every time. And then they give me the paper. I read it, every time I read it, even though I know it will floor me – cause of death…. I get in the car and feel like I’ve been turned inside out, again. I sit, clench everything, every bit of me and I hold on to reality and the good and I push away the sick feeling and the terrible images and the feelings, the complex, complex feelings. I turn on the radio and I drive to work. I carry on as normal, it was just a paper cut after all.