I was startled the other day by a woman approaching the desk. She was a small, roundish woman, not threatening at all, and after a very pleasant greeting, asked, “Can you tell me if my husband is dead?”
“Ah, let’s see here. When was the last time you heard from him?”
“It was about six years ago, I think,” she said. “He doesn’t live in the area.”
“Ok,” I hesitated.
“The Social Security office sent me over here,” she explained. “They said you might have some information that could help me.”
“That’s interesting, I was just thinking they were the exact people that could help you. But we have a subscription to the Social Security death index. Let’s look for him in there.”
I felt vaguely heartless describing it like that, but she didn’t seem to be exactly grieving, so I trusted I hadn’t offended her.
“Um, I’m sorry? His name doesn’t appear to be here.” I was feeling more confused by now. Was I sorry he wasn’t dead? Was she?
“Do you have any other information?”
“Does he have family in the area? If he had died, would they have published an obituary? We can search his name in the obituary index and see if one is published under his name.”
“Yes, he has family here.” We looked in the obit index and did not find him there, either.
“Ma’am, I suggest you contact his family to find out for sure. Have you tried to contact him?”
“Well, he doesn’t answer my letters,” she said. “And the last one came back. Maybe I will call his family.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more,” I said.
“Well, at least I know that officially, he doesn’t seem to be dead,” she said. “That’s a start.”
“Good luck with the family,” I said.
She laughed, very gently. “I may need it,” she said. “Thank you.”
My head is spinning. So apparently to some people, you get married and disappear, and somehow, to the other person, that is ok for six years and then it isn’t. Maybe I am just old-fashioned, but for me when people marry, I expect them to hang out together. You know, more often than every six years. And that your spouse would know whether you were alive or dead. And that communication with his family would not require luck in any way.
Somebody knows this man somewhere. But to her, here, is he really among the living?