Margaret returns one afternoon from tennis to discover that Lewis, her husband, has committed suicide by taking an overdose of pain medication. Lewis had been bedridden from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They had thoroughly discussed his plan to kill himself before he was unable to do so, but Margaret is surprised when it happens because she expected Lewis to leave her a message. There is none.

As Margaret prepares for her husband’s cremation, she recalls the circumstances under which he left his teaching job--not because of the ALS, but because he used to teach human evolution in his high school biology class, without giving "equal weight" to creationism.

Because this upset many of his students’ parents and local clergy, the principal several times suggested that Lewis might at least give a nod to creationism. However, Lewis, an outspoken opponent of religion, was insulted by this proposal and quit his job.

The undertaker encourages Margaret to hold a wake--to comfort her and their many friends--but she insists that Lewis wanted no wake and no service. The next day the undertaker brings her Lewis’ ashes; she goes out into the country at night and disperses them.


Where is the comfort in this story? We see Lewis only through the eyes of his wife--a man who rejects the "comfort" of religion and special creation, but finds comfort and meaning in his role as a teacher. When this is taken away, he rapidly loses ground to ALS. In the end, Lewis has nothing to say; he is unable to reach out to his wife and provide her with words of comfort. Nor is Margaret able to accept the standard comforts of eulogy and funeral.

She only achieves what might be called an epiphany of comfort when the kindly undertaker explains, at her insistence, in stark biological detail how he prepared the body prior to cremation. This somehow allows her to re-experience the soul that Lewis was so dedicated to denying. As she tosses the "cooling ashes" along the road, she experiences amazement at the "calm above the surface of (her) life, surviving, though the pain of the cold continued to wash into (her) body." (p. 155)

Primary Source

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage



Place Published

New York



Page Count


Secondary Source

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage