I was sitting at her kitchen table organising the funeral when she said, “I need to take some clothes in to him, when they took him away he was in his pyjamas”.
“Oh,” I said, “Let me do that. I’ll be going right on by on my way home.” I wasn’t going there at all but I wanted to save her from it.
She agreed. “I have bought him a new shirt and I have washed it, but I need to iron it,” she added.
I knew she didn’t know how difficult that task was going to be and so, trying to give her the less awful of the two awful tasks I said to her, “Let me do that for you, you can read through the list of music and choose some songs for the service.”
“No!” she said. “I can’t have the celebrant ironing, I’ll do it.”
She put up the ironing board and the iron hissed and steamed into life whilst she fetched the new shirt. Then she picked up the iron, and stared at the shirt … and I knew that she knew.
I knew she was thinking about the thousands of shirts she had ironed for him over the years. She knew this would be the last one.
Her tears dripped onto the shirt as she ironed. We didn’t speak, no words were needed. She had never felt more alone in her life. She went into the bedroom to fetch a coat hanger then she hung the shirt up and handed it to me.
I hugged her then gathered my belongings and we went to the door. I thought we would say goodbye there, but she followed me to the car to make sure I hung the shirt up and didn’t just lay it on the seat.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realise it would be like that.”
On my way to drop it off I thought about ‘the last time’ and how sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t know that it is ‘the last time’.
The last time our children grab our hands on the walk in to school. The last time we bathe them and pour cups of water over their soapy heads. The last time we iron their uniforms. The last time we wait in the line of cars at the school pick up. The last time they sit on our knee as we read them a story. The last time they fall asleep in our arms.
When we become husbands and wives there will be more last times. The last time we make them dinner. The last time we buy them a card or flowers. The last time they pull into the driveway. The last time we kiss them and say goodnight. The last time we iron them a shirt.
Sometimes we don’t know that it’s the last time. Then they go, leaving a mark like a handprint on glass. We are never the same.