Theoretically, there is an emergency line that employees' families can call. If there is a problem that requires immediate attention, call that number--they say--and the employee will be informed.
In practice, it never works. Mrs. Fungus has needed to call me on several occasions, and that line is either always busy or never answered. So I have my phone set up to be in quiet mode, with a select few numbers able to ring through regardless. Mrs. Fungus is a very responsible person, so when I hear her ringtone while I'm at work I know it's a real emergency. Christmas day was no exception.
I was at lunch when she called, but they'd fed us and I'd already eaten, so I was just sitting at my desk, relieved that the day was more than half over and trying to relax a bit. Phone rang, so I locked my computer and hurried out of the call center.
Reception there is not the greatest (grounded metal box) and she was too upset to speak coherently at first, but eventually I understood: her father was dead. I told her I'd be leaving momentarily; once we'd rung off I went back into the call center, found a supervisor, explained the situation, and left. I did not ask to be excused; I just outlined the situation and said I was going to my wife.
I was perhaps a third of the way home when my phone rang again; this time it was Mrs. Fungus telling me I had to go to the house to talk to the police and get some paperwork, so I turned around and went back there.
Cops: "You don't want to go in there until the coronor has removed the body."
Me: "Yeah, you're right; I don't. How long, do you think?"
Cops: "Not more than an hour."
Me: "I'll wait."
Dad had a tendency to turn off his answering machine when he didn't want to be disturbed. He was kind of insular. Him not answering his phone wasn't unusual, but as the week progressed people began to get worried, and when he didn't answer on Christmas, his son (living in Georgia) called the police to get a health check. The rest is history.
Judging by the circumstances it looks like he passed away quietly in his sleep, laying on the floor in front of the TV set in the living room, perhaps as much as a week ago (according to the coronor). The result of the body laying in a 75° room for that length of time--well, I'm thinking I'll take a good boxcutter with me and dispose of that section of carpet. Even if it were cleaned of...residue...it's very badly stained, anyway, and will have to be replaced. I already removed the blankets and pillows he'd been using, and I did some other minor cleaning. The smell is not bad, though--certainly not as bad as I'd feared--and when we went back to the house yesterday I sprinkled some carpet deodorizer and lit some incense and opened a couple of windows, which also helped.
I had only a little time Sunday to look for the critical papers, not wanting to be away from my wife for very long. It still took me the better part of an hour to make sure I'd left no stone unturned. I found what we needed, but not all of it, hence the second trip yesterday.
I didn't realize how hard I was hit by all this until I got to work Monday. I was in a fog all day; when Mrs. Fungus and I spoke around 4:30 I was all too ready to leave. My supervisor had already been apprised of the situation, so I only needed to tell her what was going on; I took off and went home.
Both of us were exhausted, though. My wife and I had not slept at all well. We sat here at home doing nothing for a couple of hours, trying to summon enough energy to go do what we had to; finally we went and did, and came home again, stopping at a 24-hour restaurant for some food.
It's just been a whole bunch of sad and difficult and exhausting. As I've explained to my wife and my brother-in-law, this is not my first time at this rodeo, so I know what needs doing; furthermore I've told my wife that at times like this you really, really need to eat and sleep when you can. It's too easy to flog yourself into a lather, but it's stressful enough without letting yourself run you ragged. This isn't an emergency; while we don't have the luxury of waiting we also don't have to do everything right now.
The biggest time-critical factor is getting the body cremated. The place that we've contacted says it takes five days to process the body completely. My research suggests otherwise, for reasons I don't care to discuss right now (look if up if you're interested) but regardless it's going to take time to get that taken care of.
And so today is going to be consumed with phone calls and probably a bunch of other business. Tomorrow, too, most likely.
* * *
"Eh?" You ask. "You were at work?"
Yep. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I worked. Christmas Eve we had almost 60 people logged in and calls were few and far between. Christmas Day--as long as I was there--we had about one-third to one-half that number, and the queue was pretendous. At 8:15 AM there were eight calls in queue for every agent logged on.
"Merry Christmas". Uh huh.
Working on Christmas Day sucks but I got last year's off, and I figured this one made the first time in my life that I ever had to work on Christmas Day. People do it; so can I. I didn't really mind it all that much, at least not until I got the call from Mrs. Fungus.
We'd figured out how we were going to celebrate our holiday with that in mind. She worked Christmas Eve, too, so that wasn't particularly difficult. Christmas Day was the challenge, but our original plan was reasonable.
So I got home about two hours earlier than I would have if things had been normal; I tossed the ham in the oven and got started with other things. We did manage to have a reasonably merry Christmas even with the bad news we got, but that's basic human psychology: you can't be somber and crying all the time even when you've just gotten some very bad news. If you are crying constantly you have a problem bigger than whatever it is you're crying about.
Rush Limbaugh made much out of something that happened in the Clinton administration: Clinton went to a funeral for someone; when it was over he came out of the church talking and laughing with people. That is normal; you attend any funeral in north America and you will hear laughter as well as crying. The part Limbaugh focused on was how Clinton--seeing that he was being watched by the press--suddenly did a 180 and pretended to cry.
So we celebrated Christmas and held back the sadness for a while, but when we went to bed it came back. Neither of us got any real sleep; I slept for a couple of hours and then moved to the sofa because my snoring was keeping her awake, at which point she managed to grab a couple of hours. The result was that I, at work on Monday, was almost spectacularly useless, and all Mrs. Fungus did was go to work long enough to make sure all her ducks were in a row, too. And so we dragged ourselves to the house, did what needed doing, and dragged ourselves home.
And I'm going to get some more sleep now.