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Living with an unbearable loss

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Moving forward into the life you create in the wake of loss

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Your last body

Jan Haag teaches journalism and creative writing at Sacramento City College where she is the chair of the journalism department and advises student publications. She is the author of Companion Spirit, a collection of poems about her husband’s death at the age of 48, published by Amherst Writers & Artists Press. She leads writing groups in Sacramento where the topic of grief and loss often arises. Read more of her beautiful writing here.

When the big U-haul rumbles onto our block,
a boxy behemoth with empty car trailer
clattering behind, it hits me:
It takes a lot more to move a body nowadays.

On your last day it took two men and a gurney
with squeaky wheels. I didn’t see them
gently remove you from the big oak chair,
put what I still thought of as my husband
into the big black bag, zip it shut,

but from my spot on the lawn I watched
them roll you out the front door,
and I had to turn away before they
loaded you into the plain white van.

Sixteen years later the body you worked on,
the 365A chassis with its once smashed-in nose
now beautifully protruding into a shapely bump,
is going to its new home.

Front of Dick's white Porsche

In our garage I find the wicked instrument
with its silvery point that you used to pull out
that big dent. And though I haven’t seen
the dent puller in two decades,
its name comes to me again like a prayer —
and there you are again in the garage,
on the creeper rolling from under the car
born the same year I was. I catch you
grinning at me and hum along
to the clock radio on the workbench
blaring oldies.

In this moment you have not yet died
leaving all the engine parts neatly arranged
on the dining room floor — carburetor,
crankshaft, pistons, distributor, valves.
I have not yet delivered those vital organs
to Stuart, 500 miles away, who will
reassemble them, blow life in the old engine.
The rest of the car has not yet spent 16 years
here in our garage, waiting.
Now it’s time for frame and heart to reunite,
time to let your last body go.

The patient trailer waits to receive
its elderly passenger as I help push
the 356 out of our garage, slowly, so slowly,
for the last time, watch Stuart attach
winch to undercarriage, take in
the stately processional of old tires
up the ramp.

And when your last body sits high
on its throne, I think,
How good it looks, all creamy up there,
its soft, inside-of-banana paint
ready to be buffed and shined by the one
who resurrected its great heart —
your great heart.

I’m letting it go now, after all this time,
I think, stepping up on the trailer
for one last pat on the rump,
to the one who should have had it long ago.

And when I hear your Yes!
I step down,
feel my feet on firm ground again,
and walk back to the empty garage.

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