Driving with Marlin

Marlin was my father-in-law, and he died 9 days ago.  He was 81, and he lived an amazing life, but we weren’t ready for him to go.  Is anyone ever ready?  Marlin married my mother-in law, Bonnie, in 1995, and they had 15 years of happiness that they never thought they would have when they lost their first spouses.  From the beginning they decided that each would be buried with the first spouse so that meant getting Marlin back to Minnesota for interment.  When John went to the funeral home with his mother and sister to make arrangements, they were all a little surprised to find that Marlin’s final trip home was going to be very expensive.  When John questioned the exorbitant amount, the assistant funeral director said that we could transport him ourselves if anyone had a suburban because that’s what they would use.  Since we have a suburban, John agreed to drive Marlin back to Minnesota.

When John told me the plan, I have to admit that initially I was not in love with the idea.  First of all I didn’t think it was legal.  He assured me it was.  Secondly, all my previous experience put me in the mindset that the funeral home director was the expert and should take care of everything.  Then I began to process the information from a more rational, practical point of view, and I came to the realization that this was the very last thing that we would be able to do for Marlin.  Once I thought of it in these terms, I was not only okay with it, I felt honored to offer this service to such a wonderful person.

The trip to Minnesota was long, about 10 hours, but uneventful.  When we arrived at the funeral home in Spring Valley, I felt a huge sense of relief.  I hadn’t really thought about the responsibility we had accepted, but if we had car trouble or an accident, that would really create some problems.  As we were getting ready to leave, the assistant funeral director told us he and Marlin had grown up together so we got to hear some great stories from their early days.  I think he would have talked much longer, but we were exhausted and anxious to get to our motel.  As we were leaving John said, “Marlin was pretty quiet on the trip up until we got to the city limits.  Then I’m pretty sure I heard him let out a big sigh so he must know he’s home.”  What was intended as a joke turned out to be the key that opened the floodgates, and I began to weep.  I think it was a combination of stress, grief, and exhaustion that triggered such an emotional reaction, and John immediately apologized for making me cry.  I regained my composure and we left the bewildered assistant to contemplate whether I had a psychotic break or just really didn’t think John was funny.

The trip home wasn’t exactly uneventful, but that story will have to wait for another time.  Even though it was less stressful, the journey back wasn’t nearly as meaningful because we were driving without Marlin.

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