Brain Cancer: After enlightenment, the paperwork…


It’s Wednesday, day three of my journey without Richard. After pouring myself into helping the love of my life live as well as possible with brain cancer over the past two-plus years, I figured I was due to sleep for a few days, do some moping, shed tears, and then resume my quiet writing  routine.

Except I forgot the paperwork. The forms that must be filled out, signed and filed in order to keep the cycle of life–or at least the cycle of institutions–turning. (Warning: I have a slightly skewed sense of humor. If you’re easily offended, stop reading here.)

Richard’s after-death journey in paperwork began with the State Anatomical Board, the agency which handles donations of bodies to the University of Colorado Medical School. Ever the teacher, he wanted his body to return to school after death to teach medical students. First though, the appropriate forms had to be faxed in…

(The photo below shows my love bbc–before brain cancer–carving a basin in a one-ton granite boulder to help it morph into a gas firepit, one of my favorite of his big functional sculptures.)

Next came the forms for the funeral home. After I signed them, the guys apologized as they loaded his limp body onto a gurney. Turns out their fridge didn’t have room to hold him until the next day, when he would be transported to Denver.

“We’ll have to take him to the County Coroner’s for the night,” they said, as if embarrassed by the substandard accommodations. “Is that okay?”

“Of course,” I replied, biting my tongue to keep from adding, “I don’t have room for him in my fridge either.” (Sometimes you just have to laugh…)

Then came the Family Medical Leave Act forms allowing Molly to return to her job as a strategist at a busy advertising agency after taking five weeks to help with her dad’s hospice care. Those required a couple of hours condensing Richard’s medical history to fit into tiny spaces.

Next, the death certificates, printed on special paper with watermarks and heavily engraved borders (at $57 for five copies it’s very fancy paper). Those make his death official, allowing me to begin notifying institutions and spawning yet more paperwork.

Our local bank was fairly easy–except for the trees killed in manufacturing the multiple sheets of paper required to remove his name from a single account. Still, a real person answered the phone, and I was treated very kindly when I walked into the bank.

The journey through the charge card company was okay once I got to a human being; doing so required navigating many nested levels of robotic voice menus. The appropriate paperwork will be emailed to me in… 48 hours. So much for instant communication.

At our insurance agency, the agent came out of her office to hug me. She’d read the obituary in the local newspaper.

“Don’t worry. We’ll handle it,” she said. And then smiled ruefully, “Resulting in the usual blizzard of mail from the company.” (More trees killed. Sorry, my love. I’m trying to be green.)

Tomorrow I’ll brave the phone menus for our retirement accounts, and visit the county clerk and the ever-dour staff at the driver’s license bureau. And so on, traveling in the paperwork realm of the circle of endings as beginnings…


(The photo above shows Richard bbeginning to polish the firepit boulder.)

Before Molly and Mark departed on Tuesday, we began two healing efforts. We decided on a public celebration of Richard’s life on December 23rd, the day after winter solstice, from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m., at Salida’s SteamPlant Event Center, next to the Sculpture Park that features Richard’s “Matriculation.” (Details to come.) If you’re in the area, please join us.

To honor his life and art in the longer term, we’re creating a fund to support the Richard Cabe Artist/Writer Residency Program in partnership with Colorado Art Ranch. Writers and artists will be able to apply for a week to a month of uninterrupted time here in tiny, scenic Salida using Richard’s studio and our guest cottage to purse projects that reflect his interest in rekindling terraphilia, our inborn attachment to the earth and its inhabitants. We hope contributions to the fund will help his ending inspire many beginnings.