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Saturday, November 30, 2002

Dear Kate,

This morning—the first time I've been alone all week—I was sitting in your chair in the TV room, thumbing through one of your note pads and came upon the obituary you'd evidently been drafting for yourself. I remember you saying just a few weeks ago that we had to write our obituaries for the funeral home, but I didn't know you'd been working on one, so I was shocked to find it—as if you had a premonition of things. And surprised to see it was as brief and matter of fact as the one I wrote last Sunday, the day after you died. At least we're still on the same page, though my piece doesn't have the edginess of yours. How could it? Here's a copy of what I wrote, so you can see for yourself:

Obituary for Kate Franks Klaus

Kate Franks Klaus, 60, of 416 Reno Street, Iowa City, died November 23, 2002, of a stroke at Mercy Hospital.

Kate was born February 26, 1942, in Lisbon, Iowa, to Stuart and Elizabeth Franks. She graduated from Lisbon High School, attended Vassar College, received a B.A. in English from Stanford University, and an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. Poet, playwright, translator, designer, environmentalist—she co-founded Reno Street Neighborhood Park, as well as Heritage Trees of Iowa City, and the Nancy Seiberling Heritage Grove in Hickory Hill Park. Memorial donations may be made to Heritage Trees of Iowa City, c/o The Civic Center, Iowa City, Iowa. A memorial service will be held in spring at the Nancy Seiberling Heritage Grove.

She is survived by her husband, Carl Klaus, of Iowa City, by her sister Martha Harrington of Largo, Florida, by her brother, John Franks of Denver, Colorado, and by her step-children, Amy Klaus Wuellner of Oregon, Wisconsin, Hannah Klaus Hunter of Davis, California, and Marshall Klaus, of Peru, New York.

On another notepad, I found a poem you'd written called "Obit"—one thing leads to another, I guess. But I could hardly believe how bleak it is, even considering your late night glooms. What made you think that no one would know "Just who I was/Just what I did”? Did you imagine yourself living so long as to outlast anyone who might remember you? Or did you really think that no one would care? Whatever the case, I wonder what you’d say about the host of cards and letters I’ve received—in just a few days, just from people in town. And the comfort food, e-mail, and flowers. Yes, they're consolatory, grieving for my loss. But it's you, Kate, it's you that they're really about—the notes and letters filled with such vivid memories that almost every one of them leaves me in tears. Enough to make up for all my years of tearlessness. Now I know what your mother was going through after your father suddenly died, why she was tearful for so long. Some legacy—your father's stroke to you, your mother's tears to me.

But already I can hear your unmistakable commands, "Enough of the tears. Enough of the mush. Just tell me what happened, and what's been happening since then. And stick to the facts, like the obituary." Easier said than done, Kate. But here it is—just the facts, or nearly so. From start to finish it was less than four hours. You got back from the art fair at one in the afternoon and were dead at twenty to five. So sudden, so swift that it’s still impossible to believe. One minute showing me the bowls you’d just bought, your eyes glittering with delight—“Don’t you think they’ll go perfectly with our dinner plates?”—a few minutes later staring blankly at the oven, a few minutes later staring blankly at me as the milk you were drinking dribbled down the side of your mouth, and a few minutes later, just before the ambulance arrived, tumbling out of your kitchen chair, already paralyzed on one side, else you’d never have fallen like that. Yet still so much in possession of yourself as to worry about our dinner party that evening for Gene, as if your fate were less important than festivities for our weekend guest. How strange, but also how fitting, that your last words to me were about food—“You’ll take care of the rice won’t you? And the lamb too?” Our daily sacrament your final concern. Ten minutes later when I arrived at the hospital, you couldn’t speak, couldn’t move your eyes, and completely lost consciousness when you were having a CT-scan. So much for the paramedic’s assurance “Don’t worry, all her vital signs are good.” Such a massive hemorrhage, “a ten centimeter bleed, a herniated brainstem,” according to the neurologist, that nothing could be done. But just to be sure, I called Amy, given her emergency nursing experience, and she confirmed the doctor’s advice—“Don’t try to save her, dad. It’s hopeless. Just make sure she gets enough morphine to prevent any pain.” So, the last three hours of your life, you lay calmly on your back in an intensive care room, while Gene sat on one side of you and I hovered around the other, sometimes holding your hand, sometimes kissing your forehead, sometimes talking to you, but mostly in such a state of shock (chills coursing down my body nonstop) that I didn’t know what to do except not to leave your side, lest you slip away in my absence—as if you weren’t already long gone, a million miles away. And when the end did come, I couldn’t tell the difference, except that Sarah, the attending nurse, was in tears as she checked your eyes—your beautiful eyes obscured by God knows what fluid—and unhooked the monitor. Your lips still warm when I kissed you goodbye, your body still relaxed when I tried to climb on the gurney. I wanted to hold you, to lay by your side one last time, but it was too narrow for both of us. And the sidebars made me feel like an intruder. So I settled for a clumsy little hug. Such an absurd parting—thirty-seven years together and nothing at the end but a clumsy little hug.

There’s more to report, but this is all I can manage right now. I’ll try again tomorrow.

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