This is the story about counting corpses, the ones that I have seen with my very own eyes. Why do I tell you that? Well, first of all, because death ends a cycle of life that can happened to anybody at any moment by accidents, illnesses, natural disasters, and violent attacks. This last one could be trending because recently without warning many people have been in perverse evil attacks. Also, because during October and November around here there are some celebrations or commemorations about dead and the death, like Halloween, The Day of the Dead, and Veteran’s Day to name some of them.
Nowadays dead has been happening around the world and we know it in a matter of seconds, but this memoir is here for you, mostly because death has been very close to home. Meaning at a corner of my neighborhood and at Daddy’s home. But let’s not talk about that, and let’s get to the point.
I have asked myself how many death bodies I have seen in my life. Number one was during a summer vacation gone abruptly disrupted. I think, I was eight years old, circa 1967. I was in my family car, we were happily cruising a boulevard, full of tourists. We were at Acapulco Bay in west coast of México. Dad was driving when we heard a loud noise. We were dismayed. I was looking at the road, so, I saw most of the accident.
Try to picture in your mind this. Ahead the car in front of us, in the same lane, another car couldn’t avoid a tall and big vacationist stepping down from the middle ridge. The ridge was a divider of the six lane boulevard and had palm trees and grass; it was not for pedestrians to be at. Absurdity was happening; this guy in sportswear, in a casual way, unexpectedly jumped in front of that car. Nobody was driving super fast; yet, it was not a slow driving situation. It was a four lane boulevard with designated signs and lights at each corner of the streets for pedestrians and drivers to follow.
When we heard that terrible noise; we saw the big tourist being impacted with the full front of the car. Everybody tried to avoid the stumbling body until it hit the ground. Then everything stopped. In a matter of seconds, I witnessed a horrible death. I was too young to truly understand the concept of death; but I understood by the scene, that something really awful had happened to that person.
Thirteen years have passed and I knew about deaths around my neighborhood and deaths in the family, but I didn’t see the bodies. Saddest of all were the young ones. A little girl was crushed by a car. She was running in the middle of the street when a speedy car ran over her. She laid ground after the impact. Surprisingly, she stood up almost immediately, then, kept running to fall dead after a few yards; the driver never stopped to help her.
A sad tragedy was when a fourteen year old boy died. He was a member of the choir I belonged to. He was in a car accident at a highway; a reckless accident.
Another death was while showing off a revolver to friends; a 16 year old boy shot himself accidentally. We cried, and grieved for all of them with our heavy adolescent hearts. Funerals were in place. The burden of dangerous behavior was engraved on us.
The saddest one was when my uncle, after just graduating from medical school, had a fatal accident while going to attend an emergency call at dawn. While on his way, after a curve; a bus appeared in the wrong lane, both were on a speedy highway. The crash was front on for both vehicles; but my uncle’s tiny sport car ended under the bus, with my uncle crushed inside. It was awful, his death was instantaneous. My grandmother closed the door to the outside world for a year, trying to cope with her grief.
While growing up, some of the dead bodies I had to deal with were animal bodies. Some, were dissected at the Biology Lab at middle school. Other deaths were a few pets, like my salamanders and some fish. I learned in my youth that some animals don’t live as long as humans. A turkey that grew up in our the house had a terrible death. All at home were very fond of the bird and once the bird was on the plate nobody could eat. To kill the bird was a mess because it was done in the kitchen; a big kitchen, but still a kitchen.
The expert was my other grandmother who grew up on the ranch, but I think that she forgot some steps because a decapitated running bird roamed in my mind for many years. Additionally the lure at the scent of blood standing still and quiet in the gathering gloom was a vivid nightmare; a smelly, distasteful-looking and bizarre one.
Other deaths; the ones of my ancestors and old relatives were revealed to me by occasional conversations when my parents thought it was appropriate, and at the right time for me to know. That sense of “they don’t exist anymore” was like holes made by each of them in our family timeline.
I distanced myself from death for many years, while when in the middle of births, and joyful times full of hope and naiveness; my dearest grandfather got cancer. In a few months he, a sweet, happy, handsome, and corpulent man went to the opposite physique and state of mind. When it was time to say goodbye some of the elders didn’t want me to see him because he was in the last steps of an agonizing death. I demanded to see him, and without any warning from the elders, they let me enter to his room; I saw a grim, gaunt and ghastly appearance. That wasn’t my grandpa!
He was in the last days or hours of his life. Until last weekend, I didn’t know the standard behavior of people dying. He was exactly in those terrible moments. My beloved grandpa was restless and confused and it seemed he was having hallucinations that were so upsetting that he was crying out, striking out, and trying to climb out of bed. I was paralyzed and speechless; then, the elders calmed him. The elders told me to get out of the room and I realized the seriousness of his condition.
The next day, at night, my husband was called by my grandpa. Grandpa was in his last lucid moment and near his last breath. Grandpa and my husband met some years ago, and from the beginning they really got along in the most fantastic way. My husband told him some jokes to him; they said a serene farewell, then he went to sleep.
Overnight my beloved grandpa died. Early in the morning, the next day, I was picked up by my daddy’s driver to go to the funeral. I cried all the way. I couldn’t contain myself. At the funeral home, one of my aunts scolded me because according to her my behavior was unacceptable. She told me, she was his daughter and she was not crying. I saw her and heard her, like in a dream; but I couldn’t answer her. I think she believed dueling had no tears.
I went to see my grandpa. He was in an open casket. He looked serene, handsome and as sweet as he had always been to me. That, was small comfort to me.
I thought he had died way too soon. I wanted to share with him all the things and accomplishments I could do. It seemed that his circle of life didn’t wait for me; my sense of incompleteness lasted many decades; because he was not with me. His absence was deeply felt. He was only in his sixties.
I didn’t know, I needed to become a grandma to understand, that he already knew I had already accomplished a lot, and he was sure I was going to do much more. He was already the proudest grandpa in the entire universe. Among many things, to be a grandma, gave me a complete joyful closure about his death. Grandpa was the second person I had seen dead by then.
A very odd thing happened one day when I was driving home after work. We were living in the end of the 80’s. The streets were busy and the city was growing. I was driving on a highway entering a tunnel. This part had a very steep road. Above the tunnel was a bridge for pedestrians. At the entrance of the tunnel, on the ground, was rolling a lifeless body. It looked like a male in his 40 had jumped the bridge, I discerned this, in seconds. Passing drivers, like me, jerked their wheels violently to avoid driving over him. The speed limit in that section of the highway was around sixty miles per hour, everybody was driving fast. You see, the road was very inclined, that is why the body was rolling in the middle of four lanes road among the speedy cars.
As soon as I passed the tunnel, I looked for the transit agent, that usually was posted at the light two miles past the tunnel. With tremendous luck, the red light was on, and I was able to briefly talk to him. I told him what was happening, and that there was an imminent clash of cars in succession. Everybody was trying to avoid the corpse! He called for assistance, but I didn’t know what happened next. The green light was on. I needed to move with the traffic.
I was horrified again while in a car. I do not believe in coincidences, but I do believe in Statistics and one more time it would had being statistically significant. That lifeless, rolling male was the third corpse I had seen so far. Remember I am answering how many dead bodies I’ve seen.
Many years later, when at age ninety-nine my husband’s grandmother died, I was asked to officially recognize her body before she was cremated. And she lay there, in front of the oven; a great dame as serene and peaceful as a person in sweet dreams. Actually, she really died in her sleep. A grand loving lady indeed she was. That was the last dead person I saw. She was the fourth.
Other dearest persons died later on. I never saw them again, by the time I was able to be in the same country they have died; I was only able to see the urns containing their ashes, or cremated remains, or cremains, as I learned the ashes could be called.
Life went on; and dead was and is among us, and by the news, more often than ever. In other posts I have written about its history, rites and significance in different cultures around the world. I’ve been to several funerals in US where different approaches have been held to commemorate the life of different persons.
They were mostly friends and just one relative. Some have departed too soon, others a just in time deaths where people can say that the circle of life was well lived; to the fullest.
Many times, people said their last good-bye in a comfortable way. The same happened with my two grandmas, they had long lives with very different backgrounds and life approaches. They were the opposite one of the other; yet, they were part of a well-aged generation. They survived the big Mexican revolution when they were in their infancy, and lived during years of extreme changes in the country. They were healthy, they were loved by the big families they raised, and they are missed in a legendary way.
Other circles of life have concluded. There are other deaths so close to my heart that need to be told in other memoirs. To me, some dead people do not look like phantom creatures with an eerie and sinister aura. They are not skeletal bodies or faces with horrid features.
I don’t think people is numbed by the news about dead. If it is a close to any, everything is humanized, or I may say looked in a closer perspective. Dead could be undeservedly known as omen of misfortune and aggression by many because human imagination, and actions, make it like that. If you have witnessed death at least once, maybe you have dealt with it in a practical way, nevertheless shocking. Maybe you have seen many corpses if that is your profession. Maybe loved ones have died at home, and it was a seamless experience because you were well informed in advance of what to expect in the final moments.
Sometimes, due to sudden, violent or agonizing deaths, some people see somewhat grim, gaunt and ghostly appearances later on; or just have recurrent nightmares.
If you were at war, or at a natural disaster maybe somebody could asked you; ’how many men and women have you watched die lately’ and you could replied ‘lately only those whom I could not save.’ Same way Dumbledore asked to Snape in Harry Potter. (Harry Potter series is an international best seller.)
Hopefully one day, corpses will be “a thing” of the past. We will live long lives with the option of regenerating ourselves like the jellyfish do. (For reals, jellyfish are almost immortal)
At least if you read this, and my whole human presence is non-existent; my thoughts and some of my experiences with dead are here, to open a little window of a not so far away past time, of a person in the matter of dealing with dead. I was just counting the corpses I have seen among the dead that surrounds all of us.
This memoir had been read out loud to several audiences on Halloween 2017. Sadness, confusion, irony, mixed feelings and denial have emerged among the listeners. It is not easy to talk about dead or the death. To go for spiritual comfort was not the intent. Somebody needs to count.