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In Case of Death

The police finally arrived on scene, about 2 hours after I had called them. I explained the situation and they seemed doubtful that anything was wrong, but they were already there and had to do a proper check. The young officers climbed the stairs of the condo and knocked on the door.

“Hello! Metro. Is anyone inside?”

I waited downstairs, my breath held tight.

They knocked, louder this time. “Ms. Anderson. This is Metro, please open the door.”

Two dogs barked behind the door.

The officers shone their flashlights in through the windows. I knew they wouldn’t see anything because I had already done that, several times, hoping against hope I would see movement.

They came down the stairs and said “We’re going to need to call a locksmith.”

I said, “Can’t you break the door down?”

The officer said, “No, not unless there is obvious danger.”

I sighed. I sat back down on the stoop of someone else’s condo. Another wait. Luckily I had a couple of friends with me, trying to keep me calm. It was 8pm. I’d been there for 2 hours.

I’ll take you back to the beginning and tell you why I was at this particular condo on a Thursday evening.

My housekeeper, Deborah, failed to show for work on Wednesday. In the 12 years she’d been working for me she never missed a day of work, and if she was going to be late, she always called. But that Wednesday, she hadn’t shown up.

I left messages on her phone. Nothing.

On Thursday I called her again, to make sure she was alright, and to find out if she wanted to come a different day. No answer. More messages were left.

Thursday night at 5pm my atoms were agitated. Something was terribly wrong and I couldn’t stop thinking about the situation.

I phoned a friend and said “Do you want to help me find my housekeeper?” She was like “Sure, let’s go!”

I picked her up and we were off. I had never actually been to my housekeeper’s condo, but I had her address and decided to use my search and rescue skills to see if I could figure out what happened to Deb.

When we arrived at the condo we drove around the parking area and I found her car. My first thought was “Oh phew, she’s home. I’ll just knock on her door and make sure she’s okay and then I’m going to admonish her for making me worry.”

We climbed the stairs, knocked on the door, and waited. And waited.

Her two small dogs were barking behind the door. I wished they could tell me where Deb was.

My friend said “Maybe she’s out with friends.”

“Maybe,” I muttered. “But if she’s alive and well I’m sure she would have called me by now. She’s never done this before.”

Deb had been my housekeeper ever since my kids were young. She was there with me, and for me, through every good day and tragedy in my life. She took care of me when I was sick, she grandmothered my children, and she paid special attention to us during my separation and divorce because she knew we needed emotional support. My kids loved Deb. She was part of the family.

As my friend and I sat waiting to see if Deb might show up, I saw a neighbor pass by with her dog. I said, “Excuse me. Do you know Deborah?”

“Oh yes, I know Deb. Is something wrong?” the elderly lady replied.

I said, “I’m one of her housekeeping clients and she didn’t show up for work yesterday and I was worried and wanted to make sure she was alright. Have you seen her in the last day or so?”

She said, “No the last time I saw her was Tuesday night when she took her sister to the airport. She has a client here in the complex that she works for on Thursdays. Do you want me to ask him if she came today?”

“Yes, thank you that would be great!”

When the gal came back she said, “She didn’t show up for work at his place either.”

My heart sunk into my stomach. Deb doesn’t flake on clients. Ever. And we were at two no shows in two days.

My friends told me to call the police and ask them to do a welfare check. I called. It took 25 minutes to make the report and convince them that I had good reason to believe she was injured, ill or deceased in her condo.

They promised they would send someone but told me it could be hours. I was frustrated, but I wasn’t leaving. Not until I knew.

I wasn’t idle though. I figured maybe a neighbor had a key to her place. I started knocking on doors and asking the neighbors who passed by if any of them had a key. They all said “Bill” had a key but Bill wasn’t answering his door. He was wheel chair bound and often didn’t get out of bed. A neighbor finally reached Bill on the phone, but he said he did not have her key.

I tracked down the HOA representative on property to see if she had a key or the maintenance man’s number, but that was a dead end too. No maintenance man, no key.

By this point neighbors were beginning to put some pieces together for me. They all remembered seeing Deb on Tuesday, but no one had seen her Wednesday or Thursday.

Then one neighbor said, “Deb had the flu Tuesday night. She was real sick.”

My stomach dropped again. Dear God, what if she’s lying sick in her bed unable to get help! I’ve got to get in there! Where were the damn police?!?!

I called the police again and told them we had reason to believe Deb was sick in her bed, not out with friends. They upgraded the call to have “medics alerted” but said it would still be a while before police could get there.

I felt trapped. What if she needed to be at a hospital? What if she was inside struggling to breathe while I sat outside waiting?

We called the hospitals to see if maybe she had been transported. She wasn’t.

Finally, the police came. They tried the door and of course no one answered. They called a locksmith, who took an hour to arrive. Once he got there he had some trouble getting the door open. He tried many tools.

It was at this point that I remembered Deb had a daughter and that she should be present with us at this time. I did not have the daughter’s phone number nor did I know her last name. A call to a web savvy friend put him on the case and he did eventually find two phone numbers we believed were related to Deb.

When I called the number and a woman answered, I said, “Are you Deborah Anderson’s daughter?”

She said “Yes, I am.”

I told her who I was and told her the situation. She said “I’m on my way.”

I said “Hurry.”

The moment I hung up I felt Deborah’s energy around me. She said, “Thank you for finding my daughter.”

I hoped I wasn’t hearing correctly because I can’t hear people who are alive; I can only clairaudiently hear people who are deceased.

Time slowed down as we listened to the locksmith trying to get into the lock and remove it. I was torn. Suddenly I didn’t want them to go in. As long as we didn’t know, there was hope.

They made it inside.

I could not breathe.

They walked around with their flashlights.

A sick feeling spread through my entire body.

They were in there a long time.

The senior police officer finally emerged. He walked down the stairs, looking at us.

“Is the daughter here yet?”

I looked around. “No, she’s not here yet.”

He said, “Well… I’m sure you can guess what’s happened. Can I ask you all to disperse so I can speak to her daughter in private when she arrives?”

That’s when it hit me. Deb was gone. I was never going to see her again. A hole ripped inside me.

I burst into tears. My friends tried to get me to stand up and move away from the scene because we understood that Deb’s daughter needed to hear it from the police officer.

But I couldn’t stand up. My legs were weak and my vision was swimming.

That’s when Deb’s daughter walked onto the scene. She saw and heard me crying and knew immediately what had happened. The police officer took her aside and told her the news and I heard her sobbing as well.

I wanted to go to her, but I still couldn’t stand up. The police officer came to me and very kindly said, “You’ve done an amazing thing here tonight. Most people would not have noticed or even called for a welfare check. You also need to know that because she was found so quickly, you very likely saved her two dogs from starving. I’m sure she knew how much you loved her.”

The rest of the night is a blur. I spent some time with her daughter as we consoled each other. She thanked me profusely for finding her phone number and getting her out to the scene. The fire department came on scene and the police escorted Deb’s daughter into the condo. That’s when we left. My friends told me I would not want to see them bring out the body.

My friend drove me home. I was completely unknowing of my surroundings during that drive and so thankful I had a friend there to take care of me. While I sat in that car, I tuned in to Deb. I told her how much I loved her and how sorry I was that I didn’t get to her sooner.

She told me, “You found my daughter. It’s all I wanted. I needed her to know I’ve passed and I need her to know how much I loved her even though she stopped speaking to me 6 months ago. Please tell her I never stopped loving her.”

It felt like Deb was at peace after giving me that message.

At home that night as I prepared to sleep through my tears, I remembered the last thing I had said to Deborah when I saw her the week prior. I said, “Deb, do you realize if you died I would have no way of knowing. I mean, who would know to call me or your other clients? Do you have a list somewhere of your clients so they can be notified if you pass?”

She sort of laughed and said, “You know, you’re right. I should make a list.”

I said “Yes, I don’t want to find out you passed because you didn’t show up for work one day.”

She assured me she would make an “in case of death” document, and we hugged goodbye.

I can’t believe this happened just a week later. It boggles my mind to know that the last conversation we had was about her dying. Did I know it was going to happen, or was it just a coincidence?

This entire experience made me focus on death and what happens in the immediate aftermath. Who would I want to be notified? My family and close friends of course, but what about my hairdresser, my accountant, my doctor, my old friends from high school?

I know we don’t like to think about death, and we certainly don’t want to plan for our own demise, but it makes me sad to think of all of Deb’s clients who may not even know she died. So if anything good can come out of this loss, I want to encourage you all to take a few minutes and make an “in case of death” document so that when you die everyone you love and care for is notified.

I am thankful to have known Deb and for having her in my life so long. She was so caring that she would go home from a long day at work and check in on her elderly neighbors to make sure they had eaten, or run errands for them at the store, or take care of them when they were sick.

We all wish we could have been there for her when she needed us. I know she is thankful for the life she had, and she is thankful her dogs are safe, together and with family. I miss her every day, but I know I will see her again one day when I pass too.

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