Body Warmth by Deborah Esther Schifter

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Most Memorable: May 2016

sunrise at canyonlands park through mesa arch

I lie against his back, my arms tucked against my chest, and feel the heft and warmth of his body. I can still say heft, even though the muscles of his shoulders and arms have withered; his legs still firm—no longer able to walk, but able to stand. A quarter turn requiring all his concentration, he’d hold onto his walker, my arm around his waist, shifting his feet two inches at a time. “Wait,” I’d say, “until I get positioned,” but he couldn’t pause for me.

Tonight, after transferring him from wheelchair to bed with one swift movement, Daniel, the homecare assistant, said, “He was light as a feather,” and I knew Alan had ceded control.

I lie against his back and feel the heft and warmth of his body. Twenty-four years ago, I lay alongside him for the first time, felt the sponginess of his thick curls, the sparseness of the strands on his chest.

Two hours ago, no longer able to maneuver his lips and tongue around words, he spelled out, taking breaths between each letter, “I-W-A-N-T-T-O-D.” Dreading what was to come, I heard the next letter and said aloud: “I want to die.”

Alan and I had talked about this. The doctors said it would take days once he stopped his feeding. We would have time. Forget work. Forget therapy. Forget yoga. I would have time, just to be with him.

I lie against his back and feel the warmth and heft of his body. We once held each other and cheered after reaching the top of a difficult climb in Canyon Lands. Three years later, we held each other and cheered after making our way across seven icy New York City blocks back to our hotel room. Alan holding his cane with one hand, my arm with the other, at each step I checked his balance, searching the ground for any obstacle that might cause a slip or a tumble. Just beginning to live with disability, we hadn’t known taxis would be unavailable at rush hour.

I lie against his back and feel the warmth and heft of his body. For twenty-four years, Alan shared his wit, his insights and compassion. For twenty-four years, I told him my secrets. There’d been one secret left: Our friend, Lindsey, had confided to me that if she were pregnant (and she hoped she was), she and her husband would want Alan to name the baby. After Alan was transferred to bed two hours ago, I crawled in behind, draped my arm over his, and told him their secret.

I checked my watch, pulled another dose of morphine into the syringe, and squeezed it under his tongue.

“Deborah,” Alan called, gasping for breath.

“I’m here,” I said, my mouth close to his ear.

“Deborah,” he called.

“I’m here.”

Alan fell asleep. I followed.

And then I awakened, alone. How long can a dead body still feel warm? I stand up and take a step toward the door to wake Daniel, but I’m so overcome by nausea, I return to bed. I lie against Alan’s back to feel the warmth and heft of his body. My forehead presses between his shoulder blades, my knees nestle behind his. Give me time. Just a little more time. At least until dawn.


deborah schifter writerDeborah Esther Schifter is at work on a memoir of her husband’s illness called What To Do About Winter, from which this essay was adapted. She lives and writes in Northampton, Mass.




STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Scott Taylor

  10 comments for “Body Warmth by Deborah Esther Schifter

  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful private moment at the end of your husbands life. Your writing says it all. It touched me deeply.

  2. Days after reading it I can still feel the emotions -My inner heart has been touched –
    Painful and full of love at the same time.

  3. Wow! Such emotion on the page conveyed through Spartan language. Can’t wait to read her book. Kudos, Deborah.

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