The day we buried my mother-in-law, Irene Harrison, I had to teach. It was going to be a short class, I told my students, because I had a funeral to attend. So we talked about the last act of Hamlet, went over the death scene, and that heartbreaking moment when Horatio says “Good night, sweet prince.”
We discussed the way this line refers back to Hamlet’s earlier, most famous speech, the one that starts out “To be or not to be…” and goes on to Hamlet musing about death, what it might be like. Maybe like a dream, he thinks. “To sleep, perchance to dream.”
At the moment we concluded our discussion and I passed out the exam, the lights in the room went off. We opened the blinds and tried to ignore the shrill whining noise that came from somewhere in the building just before the lights flicked on again. And my students settled down to their exams, books open, because there were mostly essay questions, which you really can’t look up. But you can search for pertinent quotations, which they were required to do.
Except the lights went out again. And the shrill noise started again. My students groaned and I said, looks like my mother-in-law needs me to get home a little sooner than I thought. Let’s make this a take-home exam.
They were fine with that.
When I got home, my husband reminded me that I’d taken the wrong car to work. He needed to wash it for the procession later. So that’s why Irene needed me to get home early, I thought.
The electricity in our house went off just before we left for the funeral home, but then it blinked right back on, like a wink.
As my husband did he duty as pall-bearer, I sat in our clean car, listening to Pasty Cline, Irene’s favorite singer. As her casket slid into the hearse, Patsy sang “Sweet Dreams” the last cut on the CD we’d been listening to for a couple of days.
While we saw her lowered into her grave, while we threw roses on her vault, while the gravediggers covered the site with dirt, an earthquake shook Michigan. The epicenter of the quake was in Canada, a hundred miles away. Close to a little town where Irene had been born.