Normally, fifteen days spent abroad should fly by. For Roselee Blooston, that fortnight and a day took forever. And it may take just as long to forget.
Dying in Dubai is a memoir, a love letter, and an honest account of how the death of a loved one can create a myriad of obstacles. Sadly, for the author, she is faced with more than just the loss of her husband, Jerry, a businessman who suffered a brain hemorrhage while stationed in the Middle East. The complications of dealing with a death overseas are aggravated by the red tape of Sharia law, a tense reunion with her estranged sister, and an attempt to console her young son, Oliver, who is shocked into adulthood by his father’s loss.
Amid the glamor and luxury of the city, Roselee must face her grief head-on while fighting a system that is not designed for women to succeed. She faces misogyny and condescension from doctors, lawyers, and bureaucrats at every turn—all while trying to settle her late husband’s estate, release his funds, and simply get his body back to America. Her short time in Dubai is spent in a hazy blur of police stations, hot taxis, and unexpected medical costs.
After a long day of so-called ‘purgatory,’ Roselee allows herself to sleep and face reality.
When I finally collapsed onto my husband’s bed, though totally spent, I didn’t know how I would fall asleep. As if in answer, a death mask appeared before my closed eyes-face only, no head, no neck, framed in inky velvet, unmistakably Jerry’s, with prominent nose and full lips-and hurtled towards my face out of an infinite nothingness, it’s plaster caste texture and chalky whiteness inescapable proof that he was indeed dead. Then it slammed into me, merged with my face, and my world went black.
Blooston’s stream-of-consciousness slips back and forth—sometimes seamlessly, other times abruptly—between the harrowing period during Jerry’s death and their shared life together. She looks back on their courtship, their early years of marriage, and the raising of their son. She struggles with her suspicions of Jerry’s supposed infidelities and the strain that his working abroad put on their marriage.
In Dubai, one of Jerry’s colleagues spoke about his own father’s death and how one must try and cope.
“The death of a loved one is something so huge, at first as big as the universe, surrounding and swallowing us completely. Gradually it becomes smaller, only as big as the world, then an ocean, then a tree, and then as big as a large person who stands next to us all of the time. Finally, it merges with us, and we carry it inside ourselves, wherever we go.”
Blooston carries this weight all the way back to New Jersey, where she begins to deal with the trappings of new widowhood. An empty house. An emptier bed. Funeral arrangements and unending condolences. A semblance of normal routine. Memories both fresh and fading. Her pain solidifying into numbness.
Here the book shifts in pace. The pulsing drama of the first half makes way for a slow, somewhat repetitive exercise of putting her domestic life back together. At times the reader feels confused as I’m sure the author must have been.
She projects a vitriol onto an entire country that she makes no attempt to identify with. Yet places great value in the healing power of Tai chi. This shows a hypocrisy of many western Caucasians who pick and choose aspects of foreign origins to fit their lifestyle while not fully wishing to understand the whole culture.
Her memories of Jerry bounce between unquestionable adoration and frequent suspicion of his faithfulness and alcoholism. In an effort to portray him as a flawed human being, one doesn’t get a full sense of whether he should be missed because he was a true partner or simply a familiarity.
Roselee’s only financial lifeline in all this are Jerry’s holdings still tied up in Dubai. While trying to release these accounts—once available as cashiers checks, by electronic transfer, or in gold bars—she critiques the sexist system she is forced to deal with while still yearning for her man’s approval of her strength.
In Dubai, the government was men—volatile, arbitrary men making up their tribal laws as they went along. I was stuck there, if not physically, then certainly financially and mentally. So I had no choice but to comply. I longed for Jerry to witness and give me credit for dealing with this mire of his making, for doing a possible job of being his surrogate. And I wanted my husband to tell me it would be okay.
Dying in Dubai takes us through Blooston’s stages of grief. She leaves a part of herself behind in that desert city. She longs to have it back but knows it is impossible. By becoming stronger and recognizing the best of her late husband in their son, Roselee somehow manages to pull through, one day at a time. She knows that the final stage, acceptance, does not come easy. But in the end, it must come.