A Death

Someone whom we knew died yesterday night. He was elderly, had been ailing in mind and body for some time, and died quietly in his sleep; so it was expected, acceptable. We went in the morning to his house. His body had been laid on the floor on a cloth, as is customarily done here. Another cloth covered his body, leaving his head visible. One rose garland had been placed on his chest. Except for the cotton stuffed into his nostrils, it was difficult to believe that he was dead. The overhead fan stirred the cloth, so that at times he appeared to be breathing. The furniture had been cleared away, except for a few chairs against the wall. His wife sat on the floor near his head, with several women around her. We also sat. She was calm, and chatted with us about her husband, things they had said to each other on the previous day. The front door was kept open, and I could see people moving up and down the sunny street. In an hour or so a priest was to come, to perform the last rites. Then our friend would be carried to the crematorium. In the evening his ashes would be immersed in the sea. To me, this is the simplest, most perfect way to deal with a death.

As I was writing this, tears began to stream down my face. Not for the man who died, but for death: its solemnity, death in the midst of life, acceptance, etc. etc. -- things that I can’t write about without falling into cliché. Then the doorbell rang. It was the generator repairman, who pretended not to notice that I was wiping my eyes and sniffling as I talked to him.

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