Take Care of You

They took all the classes: Dying with Dignity, Saying Goodbye, Living without Your Spouse. Ned promised he could take care of himself, but Sarah wasn’t so sure. The man had never cooked his own meals, washed his own clothes, or scheduled a doctor’s appointment. 

In her final days, when Sarah barely woke, when the world began to feel distant and she felt more and more divorced from her body, Ned squeezed her hand and whispered, “I can’t do it. I can’t live without you.” Even when Sarah should have been focused on dying, she was thinking about her husband and whether he’d survive without her. Truthfully, it just plain annoyed her. She was chilled to her core, could no longer feel her fingers or toes. Her body was shutting down, but still she had to listen to her husband bitch about what he couldn’t do. It was exhausting. So when life began seeping from her body, she felt only relief.

As she exhaled one last time, Ned leaned close. After a full minute of stillness, he began to cry. Another minute, and he crawled onto the bed and cradled her against his chest. Her head fell back, her arms and legs dangled. He tried to capture her splayed limbs, then pressed his face into her chest and sobbed. He smeared tears and snot on her nightgown, and howls she hadn’t known he was capable of emerged from his throat. Even then, she wanted to pull away from him, to demand he let her be dead. 

She waited for him to put her down, to call an ambulance, but Ned didn’t move. He held her until his strength gave out. Then, he laid her down and curled around her, caressed her cooling face, whispered that he couldn’t let her go. He ran his fingers through her hair, kissed her lips, tried to warm her dead hands. 

The real problem came the next morning when he woke but didn’t move. Even as the blood pooled in her body and her eyes and mouth hung open and her skin turned gray and cold, he wrapped his arms around her and howled some more. At eight, he got up to pee but then came back to bed and clung to her body. At ten, he still hadn’t moved, though Sarah knew he must be hungry. At noon, she’d had enough and sat up. 

“You need to pull yourself together.”

He screamed. Then reached out to touch her face, which no longer had any give and was frozen in a grimace. 

She pulled away, hated this version of herself. 

“You’re dead,” he said.

“And I wish I could stay that way, but you’re doing a piss poor job letting me go.”

“I don’t know what to do.” His voice was a whine. Tears sat in his eyes.

“Yes, you do.” Except it was clear he didn’t, so she began stripping the bed. “You can’t sleep where I died.” 

Ned pressed his face into the bundle of bedding. “It still smells like you.”

She pulled the blankets from him. “Take a shower. You haven’t had one in days.” He’d camped out beside her deathbed, held onto her hand, cried a lot. He’d been lost in grief, and she needed that to end. 

She washed the sheets on hot to get rid of the death smell. Then, she heated the skillet and filled it with bacon, Ned’s favorite. She put bread in the toaster, started a pot of coffee, and placed the newspaper beside his plate. 

When the bacon spit on her, she didn’t feel a thing, realized her body might be a little easier to live in now. At the very least, the pain that had settled deep in her abdomen was gone. When Ned emerged from the shower and put his hands on her shoulders, she could barely feel him. It was like being touched by a ghost. She shrugged him off, ushered him to his chair, said, “You’ve spent so much time taking care of me. You need to take care of you now.” She poured him a cup of coffee, put a piece of toast on a plate, returned with sizzling bacon. 

He mumbled his thanks, his face already in the paper, the toast in his mouth. “Ned?” she said, and he glanced up, annoyed. She’d seen that look too many times to count. She paused, wondered if she’d made a mistake. 

“What?” he asked, eyebrows raised. 

“Nothing.” She topped off his coffee. She stood over the stove, staring down at the bacon burnt just the way he liked it and knew he’d tricked her. She couldn’t say how exactly, but he’d stolen something she couldn’t name. 

She winced when his chair scraped across the linoleum, hated that sound.

“I’m glad to have you back.” He kissed her on the cheek. She didn’t look up but heard him plod across the kitchen and into the living room, then the screech of the recliner as he raised the footrest. He’d fall asleep there, napping until she woke him for the lunch she’d make. She sighed, wondered if maybe he hadn’t stolen anything. Maybe she’d given it to him. Sarah pressed a palm to her lifeless chest, felt as tired as a dead woman could. 


Headshot | Laura Leigh Morris


LAURA LEIGH MORRIS is the author of The Stone Catchers: A Novel (UP Kentucky, August 2024) and Jaws of Life: Stories (West Virginia UP, 2018). She teaches creative writing and literature at Furman University in Greenville, SC. To learn more, visit www.lauraleighmorris.com.