Archive for death
‘Forgive me father for I have sinned. It has been three weeks since my last confession’
T leaned back against the wall of the confessional box and tried to put those weeks into focus.
‘Go ahead my son’
‘I have taken the name of the Lord in vain. I have twice stolen. I have hit another man’
That was somewhat of an underreporting of what had transpired but the church didn’t need to know everything yet. Wait until the big one went down before asking for contrition.
‘Tell me my son. Is there anything else you wish to confess to?’
The silence was indicative
‘Very well. You must learn from these mistakes and avoid situations that lead you into sin. Say twenty Hail Mary’s each night and ask the Lord for forgiveness’
T bustled out of the box anxious to avoid the eyes of those waiting. The church and the confessional box were a necessity, his last grasp on normalcy.
Puddles of exhaled vomit litter the streets amidst discarded fast food wrappers, cardboard drink containers with bent straws, and carefully posed half-empty beer bottles signifying their former owners’ good intentions or bad memory. The smells of bread baking, bacon frying, coffee brewing, mingle with the salty smell of the fresh morning as the city awakens. A helicopter passes overhead, the chook-chook-whoop-whoop drowning out the roar of a BMW accelerating down a deserted, early morning Wellington street.
He wheeled the Jag down the narrow streets by the waterfront. The next visit was to his doctor. The waiting room, dark; a radio played top 40 hits; the seats covered in disposable sheeting like the examination table. Did doctors have any training in how they set up their waiting rooms or did they just make it up as they went along? An air of hushed anticipation hung in the air as the other patients waited for their delayed appointments.
The balding doctor, ten or fifteen years T’s age poked his head around the door.
T entered the room and made the journey to the chair placed beside the doctor’s desk. He felt, then noticed, the shaking in his hands, the cold place in his chest, the dizziness.
‘Well T. How have you been since the last appointment?’ The doctor didn’t even wait for the reply and ploughed on ‘the results of your tests are back’
T felt the cold place turn into a dark tunnel from shoulder to groin.
‘Well the picture doesn’t look good. See this elevated figure here, and here, and here, and this substance. Put together they mean that there is something seriously wrong with your kidneys and liver. They are just not removing the poisons from your body the way they should do. The symptoms you described of tiredness, nausea and ………….’
The doctors voice slowly faded out of T’s consciousness. So it had finally caught up on him. He snapped to attention again. The doctor had moved on.
‘I’m also worried about your blood pressure and I want to refer you to a cardiologist and a neurologist to check out your heart and to have a look at whats happening to your brain. The failure of the kidney and liver need to be investigated separately but lets get a thorough view of what your body is up to. I have to talk to you about lifestyle changes but lets leave that until we get some more results in.’ He reached for the telephone while asking if there were any questions but T knew what this all meant.
Later: High over the bay he looks down over the harbour, bordered by rich green eucalyptus tress and the stark, gleaming monoliths of Government and corporate buildings. Ferries large and small ply their trade across the harbour and the adjoining strait, while the ubiquitous jet-skis and yachts flutter like butterflies in their wakes as they put to sea. The silence of the early morning has given way to the all-day hum of the city which will build to a crescendo as darkness falls again, the salt smell will be replaced by the sweet mix of petrol and deisel, and bodies that have slept all day will rise to inhabit the night.
Last stop of the day.
‘Gidday. How are you ?’
‘Oh pretty good. No worries’
‘What you got today then T?’
‘This, this and these. Should be worth at least five hundred’
T pulled a couple of camera’s, a portable computer and a nautical sextant from his totebag.
‘I can take the cameras and the ‘puter but no call for whatever that other thing is. Looks like it should be in a museum.’
T thought of the struggle with the man in the dark room and the feel of his fist catching cheek and nose before he managed to break loose and get out the door.
She was sitting at the airport table. She was hunched over, squashing her breasts against the plastic tabletop. Her tongue hangs out the side of her mouth and her eyes squeeze inwards as she concentrates on pulling up first one, then her other, sock. Her vacant gaze searches out her carer buying chips at the café. Her stubby fingers now stuff the fiery hot potatoes into her mawl. Her head, inclined to the right, her shoulders hunched she seems impervious to the burning. Twenty-two years ago she was born suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome. She is my daughter. Her mother died after she was born, unable to give up drinking, unwilling to change her life.
A Dogs Tail Tale
She lay on her side, her ragged breath imperceptibly moving her outer clothing. Beside her lay Beatrice, her King Charles spaniel, her constant companion apart from the hospitalisations of both of them for the last twelve years. She had originally been born Amyrll Beatricia Candy and was a pure breed but the old woman had renamed her Beatrice not realising that like ships, renaming an animal is fraught with superstition. And it had been a superstitious relationship. Beatrice had provide time and time again that she was capable of ignoring her breeding and resorting to escaping from enclosed and locked yards and cavorting with all manner of mongrels. The old woman had her spayed early on in the piece but her instinct to escape and make mischief remained with her until her legs and heart no longer had the energy to dig and run.
Now she lay in what could be the trows of death and the old woman’s family gathered round in her and the dogs time of need although the two children hated the dog with a venom that was only matched by that which attached the women to her pet. The vet had been phoned and the old woman had finally accepted that the end was near, as was her own end. An end to living on her own, possibly an end to living altogether – but for Beatrice , her ends was coming this very night as the cold winter chill closed in on the house on the hill. The son had already prepared a shallow grave in a spot chosen by his elderly mother. He had made sure that she could see the grave site from her bed and had fashioned a crude cross and a spray of flowers so that she could see her beloved Beatrice. The now huddled around the two reclined forms as the old woman suddenly tried to change her mind.
“She seems to have eaten and held down that bowl of food”, she intoned for the third time “she seems to be pulling back form the brink”.
The dog twitched as if she sensed what was going on and felt a reprieve but the children looked at the pile of regurgitated food in the corner and nodded knowingly to each other. A knock on the door signalled the arrival of the vet. He entered the over warm room and quickly looked around and greeted the old woman who he had much contact with in the past year. Beatrice had slowly withdrawn from life and received injections of steroids, antibiotics, pain killers and many other medicinal remedies which now stood at nearly $2000. So his little cash cow or cash dog had finally come to an end. He was a caring and compassionate vet but he also ran a business and this little dog had lived well past her use by date. He opened his bag and asked the obvious questions.
“Are you sure? – I will make it as painless as possible – has there been arrangements made for disposal”.
At that last utterance the old woman shrieked and asked be escorted off to bed.
The children looked in amazement as he shuffled along the corridor with the aid of her walker.
“Doesn’t she want to hold her?” the daughter asked.
The son just rolled his eyes, being used to the eccentric behaviour of his mother.
Then the vet announced that he was missing one of the important drugs that needed to be administered and he left the room intimating he would return in several minutes. An half an hour rolled by and the two children, eager to continue with their nightly routine became anxious, then annoyed at the delay. They commenced to talk about what would happen to the house and their mother after this. They talked of the possibility of a rest home and then the daughter unveiled her plans for the refurbishment and then sale of the family home. The son rolled his eyes and remembered what growing up with these two people had been like. He silently prayed for the quick return of the vet. His prayers were answered a few minutes later and the little man glided into the room with a triumphant look on his face and drew up the two needles.
“One to ease the pain, one for the job”, he announced ghoulishly.
The daughter left the room to fetch the mother but, to her shock, she looked peacefully asleep in her bed which overlooked the soon to be grave of her beloved pet.
They waited after the vet had departed. He had said about a half an hour but the dog appeared to be going into rigour after about fifteen minutes so they gathered her up in her favourite blanket and made the journey to the gravesite. The son had tried to get the daughter to stay with the mother in case she woke up and realised what had happened and plunged into a hysterical fit which had happened at times like this in the past, but the daughter insisted on coming. The son really did not want her to see that he had laid out a bag of quicklime next to the grave which he was going to empty over the corpse to compensate for the shallowness of the grave and the inevitable smell. He had read that quicklime hastened decomposition and had decided that could only be a bonus.
“All right, just follow along with the torch so I can see where I am going.”
The path to the garden grave was dark and through a small grove of bushes. As he approached the gravesite the torch suddenly flickered out and the garden was plunged into darkness. He felt a root catch his foot and he plunged forward, Beatrice flying from his arms. He thought of angels and was relived that he hadn’t plunged face first into the garden. When they got the torch going again they had lost the dog. Where had she gone? They searched through the shrubs and then the daughter uttered a scream.
Beatrice lay, with all four legs stiffly in the air, on her back in the open grave. She had landed perfectly upside down as her last act of freedom. The son silently shushed the daughter away and resumed his grisly task.
There were images of dead infants and toddlers, lovingly dressed and photographed for posterity. Although some of the children were shown simply lying on their beds, others were carefully posed with dolls or personal belongings. One picture taken by an unknown photographer was particularly haunting: a young girl had been propped up and made to hold drumsticks. In a small, hand-coloured daguerreotype framed in velvet, the little girl played with her favourite toy, even in death.
These family keepsakes may strike contemporary viewers as odd and perhaps even grotesque. Producing and circulating pictures of dead relatives or famous people is no longer an acceptable, everyday practice, even as there is a fascination with dead bodies in films and on television. When photographs appear at funerals today, they are more likely to replace the corpse than to image it. Typically placed atop a closed casket, modern pictures feature the deceased individual in life, often at a younger age or before illness struck
I don’t know if it was the light but he looked as though he were made from alabaster. His head was stretched backwards as if he had been straining to see something on the roof of the room. His mouth was open, jaw slack, and a fine line of spittle had spread down the left hand side of his chin. His face was stubbled with grey and white hairs; the nurses must have forgotten to shave him that morning or, figuring he was close to death, left him alone. His wife gently tried to close his mouth but, encountering pressure, her gentleness turned to anger as she forced his lower jaw shut. She wept inconsolably and, looking around her at the silent and unmoved gathering, she expressed loudly that he didn’t look good in death. His previously large vibrant body was parked now. Its engine had finally stopped, position at top-dead-centre. His pyjama top was open to waist level and his singlet barely covered the matt of grey hairs that grew form his chest. The bottom half of his body was discretely covered with a red hospital blanket, concealing the tubes and drains that punctured his body. He had not died peacefully. He appeared as though he had to be have been wrenched from life, unwilling to commit to this final ignominy.
So it was a shock to see the room where he lay the next day. He had been stretched out, dressed in his best suit (and underwear) and a thin smile had been carved on his face. He was wearing the blue shirt that he hated so much in life and what had the wife been thinking when she matched the suit with his cross trainers. He, who had been so conservative in life with clothing, was going to his final resting place dressed as bizarrely as the pet dog they dressed up and photographed when they had several gins on board. The coffin lay open and the lid was propped up incongruously on the nearby sideboard. A series of photo’s showed the man as he had been in life. Here he posed on his retirement day, hair brylceamed; tie gracefully tucked into his service jacket. Here he reclined on a bench in what must have been his trip to Italy to revisit his wartime haunts. Here, he playfully held his partner in a death lock while grinning at the camera. And here, on the front of his funeral eulogy was the same image. The ultimate revenge.
They spoke of him. Here was a man I didn’t recognise. Had I grown so distant from him that I had forgotten the tenderness he could show to a young grandchild? Had I grown so distant that I didn’t believe the words he said of his son? I didn’t recognise the man or myself.
Then I find myself working in a rehabilitation hospital where a large part of the client group are males with strokes. I wander down the ward and look into bright, airy rooms, some with beds surrounded by deep blue curtains. I see men, not much different in age to myself, bent over feeding trays, arms dangling uselessly mouths dribbling as they try to move neglected limbs and muscles to give a greeting. A cold, icy fear grips my chest and I hurriedly complete the tasks I have and return to the haven of my room. Did I notice cards and balloons? Did I notice the one litre bottles of sugar filled drink? Did I not detect the faint whiff of cigarette smoke and, in one instance, alcohol?