On Wednesday, January 23, I received a rather strange and eerie phone call. My cell phone rang and a lady identified herself as working for the Polk County Medical Examiner. She explained that she received my number as somebody who may know a person by the name of Gilbert Colgrove. I thought for a minute and could not place the name, so I told her that it was not anybody I knew or was familiar with. She asked me again, “So you do not know Gilbert Colgrove?” and I said no. Her exact words back to me were “That’s interesting….he had your phone number, but thank you for your help.” At no point did she indicate that she was attempting to find next of kin for a deceased person, but I knew that was the purpose of the phone call. Many thoughts ran through my mind during and after that phone call. My very first reaction, after hearing the words ‘Polk County Medical Examiner’, was that my heart starting pounding and I feared that a family member had died. That pounding heart lasted long after the phone call ended. It was horrible and my heart breaks for anybody who has ever received such a phone call. The second feeling was that I was sad that it was not obvious who the next of kin or loved one was and the ME’s office had to resort to calling random phone numbers they may have found. Lastly, I became aware of all of the people in this world who are not necessarily family, friend, or loved one who have my phone number. People I may have done business with, either with teddy bears, antiques, Craigslist, contractors or delivery persons. Somebody had died….of that I was sure and I did not for one second think it was a hoax or prank of any sort.
The phone call was still weighing on me the next day when I drove to Kansas City with my daughter and grandson. I began to tell my story to Kristin and she indicated she had read my post on Facebook concerning the phone call. She got a very enlightened look on her face and turned to me as if the solution to this puzzle had just been whispered in her ear. Without hesitation she asked about a man I had befriended several years earlier. “Wasn’t his name Gil or something like that?” she asked me. I knew immediately she had it.
Gil did not pronounce his name with a hard G as you would think a shortened form of Gilbert would be, but instead it sounded more like the sound you make when you say Zsa Zsa. He was a sweet soul who I first encountered standing at the parking lot entrance/exit to the neighborhood grocery store where I shopped. Gil was a small man, a bit bent over, bald and walked with a cane. He had only a few teeth left in his mouth and I assumed he was most likely not as old as his battered exterior would indicate. He stood there with his sign asking for donations or food and he was accompanied by a small white dog I later found out was named Pocket. I gave him some money that day, as I did every time I saw him. One evening as I pulled into the parking lot with my daughter, it was pouring down rain. We got out of the car and headed into the store. Standing underneath the overhang was a very wet Gil and his dog, Pocket. Gil had roughly fashioned a “raincoat” for Pocket out of what looked like an old shower curtain. I asked him how he was doing and he answered that he was waiting for the bus. Had he had a meal recently was my next question, as I wanted to buy him something to eat. He answered that he had not and would appreciate a meatloaf meal, so off we went to the deli and I bought him several meals to go. When we took it back outside to Gil, I asked him if he would like me to take him home. “That would be so nice of you….are you sure you don’t mind?” was his reply. My instincts told me that Gil was a peaceful man and would do us no harm. We helped him into my car and off we went to a small brick one story apartment building on the edge of our downtown area. I asked him his name and he told me Gil -- with the unique pronunciation. He told us he was not originally from Iowa and I cannot recall if he told us where he was from. He had lived with his Mother until she died and he had been a delivery person. He told me his apartment was subsidized, he was on several medications, and that he received a bit of help from some church. I didn’t ask too much about his personal situation. He told me about his dog, Pocket, and it was obvious that this dog was his world. The name Pocket came because when Gil first found this small white dog, he carried the tiny puppy around in his pocket. I helped him carry his food inside a very small & sparsely furnished apartment. Before I left, I gave him my cell phone number and told him to call me if he ever needed anything……he never did. I would give him some money whenever I saw him at the grocery store entrance……which was not often, and occasionally would stop at his apartment with groceries or cash for him and sit and visit for just a bit. Over time, I no longer saw him around and lost touch……until the phone call from the medical examiner’s office.
When Kristin & I arrived in Kansas City, I called back to the Medical Examiner’s office and spoke with the lady who answered the phone. I informed her of the phone call I received the day before and of the memory jog my daughter had given me. The kind lady confirmed that the person was the same as the name I had been given the day before….based on where he lived. He had died of natural causes in his apartment earlier in the week. She said she would have the lady I spoke with the day before call me back. When Sarah called back, I asked about Pocket. She said that Gil had a note taped to his wall, which appeared to have been there for a very long time, giving the name & phone number of a lady he wanted Pocket to go to in case anything should happen to him. The lady rescued dogs and had apparently visited Gil on occasion. Sarah said that Pocket had been taken to the local animal rescue league and the lady had been called. I requested that she please give me a call if she heard that the lady was not going to pick up Pocket, as I would take him. I also asked about Gil…..what would happen to him if no next of kin were to be found. Here is the process. They wait for 30 days and if nobody claims the body, it is cremated and kept in storage. I was told about every ten years these unclaimed ashes were buried in a common grave. The thought made me sick to my stomach. Nobody should have their life end that way. Now I have a strong faith in God and I know that after death, our body is merely an empty vessel, devoid of the soul. However, it felt so disrespectful. I asked her if I could have a Christian service for Gil after cremation. Sarah’s response was that they would keep my name and phone number and if no next of kin claimed the body, I could choose a funeral home to work with for the service and cremation of Gil’s body. The county would pay for his cremation since he had no funds. The ashes would then be turned over to me. I would be responsible for processing all of the paperwork.
So now I sit and wait the 30 days for a call. I want to have a service for Gil and I will invite people I know to the ceremony. Even if it is only me who attends, at least there will be somebody to pay respects to a life which God created for a purpose. Please say a prayer for the soul of Gilbert Colgrove and tell your loved ones today how much they mean to you. I wonder when the last time was that Gil heard the words, “I love you” from anybody. He was 66 when he died. I hope as I write this he is sitting at the feet of Jesus in Heaven. God Bless you, Gil.