The Final Farewell
By "TV Dave" Neff
The Otter Family Funeral Home had been serving the tri-county area for the past 75 years; it was run by Lester Otter and his brood, Danny, Bob, Ross, Terry, Nancy, eldest son Larry, and wife Ester; all were well trained in serving the needs of grieving families.
Since death waited for no one, the funeral home phones were manned 24/7. Danny Otter was on the desk that night; Terry and Larry were in the prep room working on a recent arrival. Danny had a small television tuned in to the all news channel, and the news was not good. The weather fur was talking about more snow on the way, adding to the problems of the storm that had come through earlier in the day.
The phone beeped once, and Danny was on it, "Otter Family Funeral Home. Danny Otter speaking. How can I help you?" he said in his best professional voice.
"Hi Danny! Dexter Collie here."
"Hi Mister Collie! What can I do for you?"
"Is your brother Larry in? I need to speak to him if I could."
"Yes he is; he's in the prep room. Hang on and I'll page him for you."
"Thanks Danny." He put Dexter on hold and poked a paw at the intercom. "Larry …you there?"
"Yes", came a voice that sounded like it came from the bottom of a tin can.
"It's Dexter Collie on line one, he wants to talk to you."
"OK, tell him I'll be right out."
Danny punched the hold button and told Dexter that Larry would be out in a moment.
"Say how are the boys doing?" Danny asked.
"Well they're in the local college now so they can still live at home and save some money on the dorm and food." Dex said, "in fact just last week they both said they were going to try for the baseball team. All those years with you as their coach really gave them the bug."
Larry came out of the prep room rolling down his sleeves, walked over to the desk and pulled up a chair to the side and sat down, "Ahh, Mister Collie; here's Larry."
"Dexter! You old dog. What are you doing up at this time of night?" (Dexter and Larry had gone to high school together.)
"How have you been Larry? Not doing bad myself." Dexter said, and then went into the sad events of the evening.
As Dexter talked,
Larry picked up a pen and started to jot down information on a fill - in - the
- blank type form "and that name is S.A.B.R.I.N.A?"
"Yes," said Dex.
"And the last name is F.O.X.X. and she is over at the Grove City Hospital now?"
At that Danny got up, went over to the coat rack, put on his winter coat, picked a set of keys out of the key box by the door and went outside to warm up one of the black SUV's that were parked in the back.
"Is there any thing else, Dex?" Larry asked.
"Nothing that I can think of right now." Dexter answered.
"OK, I'm going to send Danny and Terry over to Grove City, to bring Mrs. Foxx back here. You'll need to keep Mr. Foxx there so he can sign the release for us to pick up his wife and start arrangements for her; also make sure he has the papers from the doctor."
"I don't think that will be a problem." Dexter said, "The wife and I are on our way out to get him now; thanks Larry, I owe you one!!!!"
"Hey!" Larry said, "That's what we're here for. Just bring Mr. Foxx by tomorrow, to get with dad, so we can get plans rolling."
"Of course I will." Dex said.
"Oh and Dex!"
"Don't be a stranger."
The drive from Eau Clair to Grove City normally takes about 20 minutes in good weather but tonight was a bit different. The roads were already bad from the last snow and it was snowing again at a fair clip. Angel was no help either, grabbing Dexter's arm every time she saw an accident, or warning him about impending doom at every turn of the icy road. Jeremy and Robin, in the back, were subdued by the news of Sabrina's death and the constant reminders of just how bad driving conditions were, cars stuck in ditches, accidents, and police everywhere.
It was one and a half hours, and 3 pit stops later, when they pulled into the hospital parking lot.
Doctor Krank had moved Chris and Alan to the back of the hospital, to a waiting room by the receiving dock; Alan was awake and sitting with a feline intern who was showing Alan how the stethoscope worked; letting him listen to his own heart beat. Chris was sitting next to them, hunched over with his face in his paws, un-moving, staring at the floor, when Alan looked up, and saw Dexter and Angel coming down the hall.
"Aunt Angel!!!" Alan cried, running pell-mell up the hall; almost knocking Angel over as he hugged her leg.
"Alan! Come're you!!" Said Angel as she kneeled down and gave him a big kiss; he then threw his arms around her neck, buried his head into her shoulder, and started crying.
"Awwww that's OK Alan, that's OK." as she patted him on the back.
Dexter kneeled down next to them and ran his paw over Alan's head and asked, "Alan, where's your daddy? Where is he, son?"
Alan pulled back a bit from Angel, and with one paw rubbing his eye and the other pointing across the room, "sniff - he's over there - sniff - he won't talk - sniff - I want to go home - sniff - I want mommy." He then went back into Angel's shoulder and began crying again.
Dexter stood up and looked over to the end of the waiting room, as the intern made his way over to them, he explained to Dexter that the doctor had moved Chris and Alan there and he was to keep an eye on them till some one came.
"I guess that's you," the intern said as he handed Dexter a file folder, showed him the contents; Sabrina's death certificate, police reports, and hospital reports, and if that was everything, then he was going to go.
Dex thanked him and he was gone.
Angel was still on her knees, comforting Alan, when Dexter came back to them; across the room he could see his boys had found vending machines and were busy looking at stuff to eat. He went back to Angel and Alan, pulled some bills from his pocket, and, offering Angel a paw up, said, "Go over and get me two coffees, black nothing in 'em; oh; and Alan, would you like some hot chocolate?"
"ummmm hmmm." Alan said, holding tight to Angel's coat
"And get him some hot chocolate too." Angel took the money in one paw and Alan in the other, leading him away.
Dexter turned and looked over to Chris, thinking to himself; Chris; now what are we going to do with you?
Chris sat there with his face in his paws, trying to run the events of the night through his mind, but it wasn't working; it was like making a phone call, and getting the busy signal. Who was going to take care of them? There was no one to help; no one cared.
Then there was a voice, "Hey! Do you come here often?", and a light thump on his shoulder.
"Go away!!" Chris said.
"Nope, I don't think I'm going anywhere." the voice said, followed by another thump on his shoulder.
"LOOK!" Said Chris, still not moving his face from his paws, "If you touch me one more time, I'm gonna knock you into next week!"
"Well, I've always wanted to go to next week," the voice said and there was another thump.
"That's it!" Chris said as he sat up balling his paws into fists and turning to face his tormenter, "I'm going to …" and the look of anger in his face melted to surprise, "DEXTER!!!!! Jeeezzz! Dexter! When did you get here?" as he threw his arms around the collie pulling him off his chair. But Dex was a bit heavy, Chris lost his balance and they both fell to the floor, knocking over the magazine table in the process.
"Oh God! Dexter what am I going to do?!" Chris sobbed, hugging Dex tighter.
"Chris!! Hey, Chris! Come on, Chris, let me up, your hurting me!!!"
Chris was hearing none of this; he just sobbed into Dexter's coat, babbling on about Sabrina.
"Chris!! Please let me up." wined Dexter, as he tried to loosen Chris' grip around him.
"Hey! What are you two doing?" Said a voice from above, Dexter squinted and looked up, trying to free himself from the grieving fox's grasp, and there were Angel and the boys watching in amusement.
"Ah, don't just stand there. Put the coffee down and help me get up, here."
Angel looked for a place to put the coffee, but had to give it to Jeremy since the table was knocked askew. She reached down and pulled on Chris' arm, to help free Dexter, who got up and dusted himself off. Then he and Angel got Chris to sit up, and with one of them on each arm, helped Chris up and over to a chair. Angel turned to the boys and told them to pick up the table and scattered magazines, then she went over to Chris, pulled a chair in front of him, and sat down. Starting to go through her purse to find tissues, she looked over to Dexter and asked him to take the boys off for a walk.
"Where shall we go?" Dexter asked. He knew the boys didn't need watching anymore at their age and this was just an excuse to have some time alone with Chris.
"Just take 'em outside for a while, till I get Chris cleaned up, OK?"
Dexter looked down at Alan, "Say Alan, you wanna go outside and see the snow."
"Are we going to go home soon?" Alan asked.
"Yes, in a little bit, but Aunt Angel is going to clean up your daddy first."
"OK" said Alan and held up a paw for Dexter to take.
"Hey guys, let's go outside for a while, OK?"
Jeremy and Robin looked at each other understanding in their eyes, "Sure dad" they replied.
Dexter turned and smiled at Angel; then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek," Be back in a few" he said.
"Take your time", she said. Angel watched as Dexter went toward the rear exit with Alan in tow, and then turned her attentions to Chris.
"Boy! You're a mess!" she said. With one paw, Angel reached over, gently raised Chris' chin, and started to wipe the soaked and matted fur around his face and nose.
Chris looked over at her, "I'm sorry Angel," he whispered.
"Hey! No need to be sorry, it happens to the best of us," she softly replied.
"But I tried to get here as quick as I could and…"
"Shhhhhh, no talking; let me get this done," Angel said, she picked up one of the cups of coffee and placed it in Chris' paws.
"Now drink this, and drink it all." Chris took a sip and made a face. "DRINK IT!" Angel commanded.
Reluctantly, Chris drained the cup, and as soon as he brought it down, Angel snatched it from his paw and gave him the second cup. "Drink this one too."
"I SAID DRINK!"
So to make her happy, Chris slammed the second cup. "YUCCCKKKK! You could have at least put some cream and sugar in it." Chris said, making a face again.
"Nothing like black coffee, to bring a fox out of a deep funk," she then reached over and took both of Chris' paws in hers, and started to massage them.
"Now, I want you to relax," she said, "close your eyes, and breathe deeply." Chris gave her a puzzled look. "CHRIS!!!! Close your eyes!" he did and started to breathe with Angel.
It was about 20 minutes later when Dexter came in with Terry and Danny Otter. They had just pulled up outside and Dexter greeted them in the parking lot. As they came into the waiting room, Dexter couldn't believe his eyes. There was Chris sitting up, in a conversation with Angel; he was still sad looking but not like before.
"Hey! He's alive!" Dexter said, as he walked up to them.
Chris looked up and cried, "Dexter," as he got up and came toward him. Dexter threw his arms up and backed up a step.
"Whoa! Now!" Dexter exclaimed.
"Dexter, it's OK; it's not going to be like the last time." Chris replied as he put his arms around his friend.
Smiling, Dexter pushed Chris back to arms length, turned his head, cocked an eye and looked at Chris from the side. "What did Angel do to you?" he asked in a suspicious voice.
"Dex, I don't know, she made me drink lots of coffee, rubbed my paws, had me close my eyes, made me breathe a lot, and talked to me; when she was done I felt better." Chris answered.
"Well, she's done that to me a few times too." Dexter said, "Whenever I'm feeling bad, or can't sleep."
"And it works doesn't it!" Angel stated as she walked up to them.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah" said Dexter, as he let go of Chris and put an arm around Angel, giving her a peck on the cheek.
"Where are the boys?" she asked.
"They're outside in the back parking lot, making a snow rabbit and I need you to go out and keep an eye on them. Please?" Dexter said, using the same ploy Angel had earlier, "Oh, and you know the Otter boys, don't you, Terry and Danny."
"Yes I do." she said as she shook their paws, "Hello boys." She continued, "Sorry I can't stay, got kids to watch." She turned to gather her coat up and came back over to Chris and Dexter, "OK I'm going. How much longer are we staying?" she asked.
"I don't think much longer," Dexter said, "We'll leave as soon as we are done here."
"OK." Angel said. She walked to the door and they watched her leave.
Dexter turned to Chris, "We need to sit down. Do you know Terry and Danny Otter?"
Chris shook their paws, "I know Danny here; he's Alan's T ball coach." Chris said.
"When Doctor Krank called earlier this evening," Dexter went on as they sat down, "he asked me to come over here to take you home, and if I would call a funeral director. So I called the Otter Family Funeral Home; our family has called on them from time to time and they were always there in our time of need. I hope you don't mind? They're right down the street from work."
"Naa! That's OK." Chris relied and turned to Danny, who was sitting on the other side of him, "What do I need to do?"
Danny Otter opened a metal clipboard and looked at a form, then turned to Chris; "Mr. Foxx, Terry and I represent The Otter Family Funeral Home. Mr. Collie called us to come here and help start arrangements for your wife. Now, I know you did not call us and it might not be your wish to use our services. If that's the case, we will get you in touch with another funeral home that can help with your needs."
"That's OK," Chris said quietly, "go on."
Danny continued, "Now Mr. Foxx, we at the Otter Family Funeral Home, offer our sincere condolences on the passing of your wife, the arrangements we make for her will be of your own wishes and we will not attempt to sell you anything that you don't want, in the end all choices will be yours and we never turn any one away because of their inability to pay. Do you understand Mr. Foxx?"
"Yes." Chris said quietly.
"Now did the doctor or the hospital give you any forms?" Danny asked.
Chris looked up and then pointed to the chair he was sitting in earlier. "They're under the chair, in the folder."
Dexter got up, retrieved the folder, and gave it to Danny, who opened it and checked the contents. Pulling out the death certificate, he closed the file.
"OK Mr. Foxx, we will give this back to you in a few days. We need it for our records. Now there's one more item we need to take care of." Danny said, "We need you to sign a permission form allowing the hospital to release your wife to us so we can transport her back to our facility in Eau Clair. Then we can begin preparations." Danny placed the metal clipboard on Chris' lap and a pen in his paw. "All you need to do is sign here by the x."
Chris looked down, read the form till he came to Sabrina's name typed there, and froze. Tears started to well up in his eyes again and a single tear rolled down his muzzle to splash on the page he was reading.
Dexter, sensing something wrong, placed his paw on Chris' shoulder and spoke quietly in his ear. "It's OK Chris, I'm here, go ahead and do it; this needs to be done."
"I know." Chris whispered as he looked down at the form. With a deep breath and a sigh, he signed the form, closed the clipboard, and handed it back to Danny Otter.
"Thank you Mr. Foxx," said Danny as he reached into his coat pocket for a business card and handed it to Chris. "Some time this morning you need to come over to our facility and see my father, Lester Otter, to begin arrangements for your wife's funeral. Now do you have any questions, Mr. Foxx?"
Chris looked at the card, then over to Dexter, "I guess not." he said. With that, Danny stood up and Chris and Dexter followed. Danny extended his paw to Chris and continued, "Mr. Foxx, once again our condolences on the passing of your wife and if, at any time, you have a question or need, please feel free to give us a call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week." Chris took his paw, and thanked him.
Danny then turned to Dexter, shook his paw as well, and thanked him for calling. With a wave of his paw, he and Terry were off down the hall.
Chris turned to Dexter, "God, Dex, that was the hardest thing I've ever had to do." Chris said sadly as he sat back down.
"I don't think so," Dexter said, "you still have tomorrow with all the funeral arrangements and final choices you have to make for Sabrina. What you did now was easy compared to what's in store for the next few days. Now, I'm going to ask you this; did you call anyone yet? Like friends? Or family? Her mother?"
"No one." Chris said sadly. "I don't know where to start."
"Well let's call her mother." Dexter said, "You know her number?"
"Yes," said Chris as he looked around, "let's go find a phone."
There was a bank of pay phones over by the vending machines and there, Chris fed some bills into the change maker and picked up the coins in his paw. He stepped over to the pay phone, took it off the hook, and punched in the number.
He got the automated response that told him how much money to pay, and he fed the coins into the slot. Then got the automated thank you and the phone rang, Dexter moved in close and could hear the ringing, the click, and then the muffled hello.
"Hel - Hello," Chris Stammered, "Endora?"
"Yes! Who's this?"
"Chris! Why are you calling now?"
Chris let out a heavy sigh, "I'm over at the Grove City Hospital."
"What's wrong? Are you OK?"
"Oh I'm fine, Alan's OK …but …It's Sabrina," he paused for a moment, "she's been in an accident." His voice broke up.
Dexter could now hear Sabrina's mom firing questions at Chris, who was sobbing again; he caught his breath, and as slow as he could, trying to keep his composure, gave her the news, "She's gone mom. She's dead; the doctors couldn't save her." Dexter could hear a wail of grief on the other end of the phone. Chris lost control and was crying again, so Dexter took the phone.
The pebble was thrown into the pond; the ripple effect had begun.
The drive back to Eau Clair was mostly uneventful; the only traffic on the road at this hour was snowplows and cinder trucks while the news on the radio was about the snowstorm and all the closings and cancellations.
Dexter had Angel following in Chris' car with the boys while he had Chris, who was not in much of a talking mood, in his car. After the call to Sabrina's mother, Dexter had needed to go outside and get Angel to sooth Chris all over again.
Chris sat there on the passenger side; his head leaning against the glass, his breath steaming it. From time to time he would look down at the plastic hospital bag on his lap, which held Sabrina's personal effects, and he would touch it with his paws, heave a heavy sigh, and lean his head back on the glass staring into the dark once more.
Dexter looked at the clock on his dash when they pulled into the driveway of Chris' house; 5:40am it read. "Well Chris, we're here," announced Dexter. Chris had dosed off, so Dexter reached over and shook Chris' leg with his paw, "Hey!! We're here."
Chris sat up, went into a stretch, yawned, and then looked over to Dexter, "Thanks, Dex" he said, "I know I've been a pain, but I appreciate what you're doing for me. I really do."
"That's what I'm here for," Dexter replied. "I know you would have done the same thing for me if circumstances were reversed." They sat there in the car, taking in the quiet of the moment, until they heard Angel in the other car rousting the sleeping boys.
"Let's go in and make some coffee." Chris suggested.
"Yeah, let's." Dexter sighed. Both got out of the car and went over to help Angel with the boys.
Once inside Dexter's boys headed over to the couch while Chris, carrying a sleeping Alan, put him on the sofa next to them where he promptly fell over to the side, still sleeping.
Angel took off her coat and took Dexter's; then hung them on the coat rack by the door and announced she was off to the kitchen to make coffee.
"Coffee's in the cupboard above the microwave." Chris called as he went across the room to check the answering machine, Dexter followed him over and they saw the message light was flashing.
Chris pushed the first button with his paw, and got the automated reply, "YOU HAVE 5 MESSAGES. BEEEEPPPP!!!" Chris looked sadly at Dexter and said, "Here goes", but before he could press the play button, the phone rang, startling both of them, and Chris picked it up.
"Uh, hello." he said quietly
"Chris!! That you?"
Chris sat down in the easy chair that was next to the phone, he knew the voice, but had to think a moment; it was Thomas Woolfe.
"Yeah, Thomas. I just walked in the door."
He heard Thomas sigh as he tried to find the right thing to say. "Well Sabrina's mom called. Then Susan, Cindy and Debbye; then everybody called everybody else here to see if they had heard the news." Thomas said, "But I have to tell you this, Amy is in the bedroom, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and packing a bag. It looks like the Clique is coming and Amy is going with them as soon as they get here."
Chris was going to say something when he heard Amy start talking to Thomas.
"Is that Chris on the phone? GIMMIE!" There was the noise of the phone being snatched from Thomas. "OH CHRIS I'M SO SORRY! OH GOD! WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO? DON'T DO NOTHING! JUST STAY THERE! WE'RE COMING! IS ALAN OK? HOW ARE YOU GONNA EAT?" Amy cried hysterically while yelling into the phone at the same time.
Chris sorta squinted and held the phone away from his ear; then looked at Dexter, who could hear her as clear as a bell from where he sat. Pointing to the phone he mouthed, "it's Amy."
Dexter just smiled and shook his head.
"AND WHO'S GONNA CLEAN THE HOUSE, AND TAKE CARE OF YOU…"
"Oh jeezzz! They're here," Amy yelled as she dropped the phone. "Commmingggg!" Chris heard her say; followed by sounds of her running towards the door.
Chris could hear Thomas pick up the phone. "Say Chris! You still there?"
"Yeah, I think so," he replied.
"Hey I'm gonna hang up here before they all get over here to the phone and start a mess. Oh! One more thing; Endora asked me to drive her and Tabitha over later in the day. Alright?"
"Yeah, that's fine Thomas, we'll be here"
"OK, we'll talk when I get there," click and the phone went dead.
Chris put the phone down, sat back in the easy chair, and looked up to the ceiling
"What was that all about?" Dexter asked,
"Looks like a batch of femmes are on their way here from Ohio. That was Thomas, Amy's husband; he says Sabrina's friends, Susan, Cindy and Debbye, were on their way over to his house to pick up Amy and then drive here, and they just got there. That's why Thomas hung up."
Dexter chuckled, "Gonna check the calls on the machine?" He asked.
"Naaaa! Chris sighed, it's probably all of them calling and crying and I don't need that now."
Chris stood up and stretched, "Dex, I'm going to put Alan to bed. Have Angel save me a cup of coffee, OK?"
"Sure thing, Chris." replied Dexter as he got up and went into the kitchen to see how the coffee was coming.
Over at the sofa, Chris scooped his sleeping son into his arms and carried him off, down the hall to his room. Once in Alan's room Chris sat Alan on the edge of the bed and, holding him with one paw, to keep him from falling over, he tried to get Alan out of his coat with the other; successful after several tries. Picking Alan up again he pulled back the bed covers, and laid his son down, covering him up. Chris looked down at his son in the dark, God! He has his mother's looks, he thought, and bent over to kiss him on the forehead. He turned to walk out of the room when he heard a small voice behind him.
Chris turned and could see a pair of eyes staring back at him.
"Yes, son?" Chris answered.
"Sniff - is momma with the Angels?"
Chris walked back to the bed and got down on his knees, he reached out with a paw and caressed his son's head, "I hope so, son."
"Are they gonna take her to the cembtery?" - sniff - "And put her in a box?" - sniff.
"Now who told you that?"
Sniff - "My friends at school." - sniff - "They say when you die, they come," - sniff - "they come , and put you in a box , and take you to the cembtery and then put you in the ground." - sniff - "And then the worms come and get yoooouu!" - sniff- Alan let loose with a howl. Chris remained there on his knees for a moment more; then tried to get into the bed with his son.
The bed was almost too small but he succeeded by laying on his side, knees scrunched up. He pulled his weeping son over to him and hugged him tight, as tears started to well up in his own eyes.
"I want mommy!" Alan bawled.
"I know son. I know. I want her too," whispered Chris, now weeping along with Alan. They lay there in the dark, crying; both wishing for something that was gone forever. Sabrina.
But time was merciful, and sleep took them.
"Where's Chris?" asked Angel as she looked up from her coffee.
"He took Alan to bed a little while ago." Dexter said, as he listened to the messages on the answering machine, Chris was right, he thought, the first 4 messages were unintelligible, and all women crying. One was crying and had the hiccups, couldn't talk and then hung up, but the fifth caller, a female as well, sounding sad and tired, spoke calmly and to the point. It was Zig Zag wanting to talk to Chris. She'd left her number and said she would call back.
"Dexter, go check on Chris. OK?" Angel yelled from the kitchen.
"Yes dear," said Dexter as he got up and went down the hall.
A few minutes later he came back into the kitchen, and reached out his paw to Angel, "Come here, and look at this," he said as he helped Angel up and led her down the hall and into Alan's room.
"Awww! The poor boys," whispered Angel as she saw the sleeping pair. "Shhhhhhh, let them sleep." She whispered, "He's gonna need it." Dexter nodded and took Angel by the paw leading her out of the room, closing the door behind them.
Once in the living room he told Angel he was going to take the boys home and try to get a little sleep. Then come back later in the day, to take Chris over to the Otter's.
"Come on boys! Robin, Jeremy, let's get up now. Up, up, up!" Dexter called as he started poking at his sons.
"Let's go boys! We're going to the house; your mom's staying here to keep an eye on Alan and Chris." He pointed the boys to the door and stopped to give Angel a hug and a kiss, "Be back soon, OK?"
"I'll keep an eye on things here." she promised and kissed him back. Dexter followed the boys out the door and Angel closed it behind them, she watched them go off the porch, and one of them reached down for a paw full of snow and stuffed it down the back of the others coat. Even as old as they were now, some things never changed; I don't think Dexter's going to get any sleep, Angel thought as she watched him trying to get the boys to settle down and get into the car. She turned and went back into the living room.
Ahhh there was
the easy chair! She sat down, heard the car doors close, the car start,
and drive away, and then ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
End of Part 2