When my Aunt Thelma died, the family gathered at the funeral home ahead of other visitors. I wandered around looking at all the flowers and reading the cards tucked in them. I heard a noise in the back room, and I peeked around the corner to see Clyde, a man I had known for many years. I asked him how he was. He said he was upset, that they had just had a call to pick up Ruby, my aunt’s best friend. I was shocked. “Ruby died?” I asked. “I just saw the flowers she sent out front.”
I hurried back out to the rest of the family. I went from group to group to tell them the news. Every time someone new came into the funeral home, we told them the sad news about Ruby.
One of my friends stopped to pay her respects, and I walked her to the door when she was ready to leave. I happened to glance toward the parking lot and saw a gaggle of ladies from senior housing coming toward the door. Leading the pack was Ruby. “Oh, my god!” My friend asked what was wrong. I told her I didn’t have time to explain. I ran back into the funeral home and went from group to group. “Ruby didn’t die,” I said desperately. “She’s on the way through door right now!”
When Ruby walked in, she was hugged and made a fuss over by half the people in the funeral home. I’m sure she never knew why.
I was angry with Clyde, and when we closed down the funeral home that night, I said to the young man who was holding the door, “You folks ought to be more careful about your employees. Clyde told me that Ruby L. had died today and it wasn’t true. It caused a lot of trouble.”
“Oh,” he said. “Clyde doesn’t work here, he just stops by to visit.”
I spent a year being angry with Clyde until one day I heard that he had Alzheimer’s disease. It all became clear to me then. Poor Clyde had been confused. I forgave him.
We still tell that story when the family gets together, and we laugh over it again. But there’s a postscript.
When Ruby really did die, a cousin and I drove out to Pickford to the funeral home. I saw Ruby’s daughter and I asked her to sit down for a few minutes. “I have a story to tell you,” I said, and proceeded to relate the unfortunate incident at Thelma’s funeral.
Ruby’s daughter got an odd look on her face. “Well, that’s why!” she said. I asked her to explain. “You know my mother was a teacher before she was married. She received a newsletter from other Michigan teachers, and one of those newsletters had Mom’s death notice in it. She never could figure out how that happened.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. It was clear to me that someone must have left the funeral home before they got the news that Ruby really hadn’t died at all and had reported the sad news to the newsletter. Poor Ruby. The rumors of her death had been greatly exaggerated.