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Location: Midwest, United States

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Death Mask


Winter’s death grip unexpectedly relaxed these past few days. Balmy air appeared...a cosmic fluke...a meteorological misstep. Still, the warmth was welcome. Snow melted to puddle. Birds sang again.

The death grip? Well, as it turns out, it hadn’t quite given up entirely.

Given the fact that the pedestrian walkway was now free of snow and the air rather invigorating, I went for a long walk.

It was quite good, as walks can be, until I came upon the yearling dead beside the trail.

Oh, I’ve seen road kill before. Lots of it. Up close and personal, as anyone who has ventured far on a motorcycle has experienced and can relate. (Factoid: armadillos bloating in the Texas sun are the worst).

This yearling was different. I didn’t know if it was a buck or a doe. It didn’t really matter. What mattered was that it was a young thing. What mattered most is that it had died with its forelegs propped upright...that it had died while struggling to raise its crushed body in one final effort to...what? The yearling died and froze mid-struggle.

I stood there transfixed. Mortified. Perplexed. Humbled. How brave the soul that struggles to survive when survival is no longer possible.

I’m not that brave.

* * *

As I walked home, heart heavy, I flashed on the image of my father’s face in death. He had died unexpectedly and was, therefore, autopsied. I asked to see him before the body was transported to the crematorium. An orderly wheeled the gurney into a private room and discreetly left. The body had been refrigerated. It was frozen. I could feel the chill through the thin shroud covering my father. I pulled away the sheet from his face and I was propelled back by the stark reality of the ashen skin, the bluish lips and...the agony frozen in time...the face of a man struggling for his last sip of air. I caressed his head and kissed him good-bye.

But I wish I had never seen him like THAT.

* * *

Gratuitous Non-Sequitor:

I added a playlist at the bottom of my blog. Feel free to sample
the tunes that resonate inside of me.


* * *

12 Comments:

Blogger L'uragano (The Hurricane) said...

i'm so saddened by the yearling story and even more so by the harsh reality of death when you say your father.

this is a beautiful, yet jarring post.

Mon Feb 09, 12:47:00 AM  
Blogger citizen of the world said...

Looking death in the face is not easy - I went to see a dear friend who died while I was out of town. I wish I hadn't - I'd rather have remembered only the living version of him.

Mon Feb 09, 06:36:00 AM  
Blogger anna said...

I remember very clearly when my dad died almost a year ago. I was sobbing uncontrollably and holding him. I had started to calm after a short while, but then started to feel panicked when I felt his flesh start to go cold. I didn't want him to go cold and I kept trying to warm him. Even now, the tears stream down my face as I recall these memories.

Mon Feb 09, 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger tipota said...

i've seen it too jonas, my father, and my aunt who was like a sistermother, i was there, i saw. it is something i can never forget. i refer to don juan (of carlos castenada) whose 'teaching' was that death was always just over the left shoulder, following you around, disappearing into corners into shadows but always there. more so once you have seen it on the face of a loved one or as you point out, overcome an innocent met with accident, up close personal, searing
image, reality check so to speak. the most awful time was the accidental electrocution of a three year old child, a neighbor.
i have put into a form like a prayer, a meditation, whenever i witness any kind of passing, even a spider, even an ant. i always whisper, 'godspeed, godbless' and then try to find some more room somewhere to carry on, and it includes feeling heartbreak more often than i ever knew was possible.

Mon Feb 09, 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Cheesy said...

I also held my father as he took his last breaths in this time and space. I'm not sure if feeling the warmth of his body as he past was any easier than seeing the coolness of death take over him ~~ but your post touched me deeply. [[[u]]]

Mon Feb 09, 02:01:00 PM  
Blogger Ponita said...

Jonas, no one wants to see someone they loved like that, but you also needed to say goodbye to him, as he had died unexpectedly.

That you were able to overcome the startled horror of seeing him frozen in the throes of death and touch him to say your last words to him means that that is just one of a million images of him stored in your mind.

I was with my father when he died, a skeletal, jaundiced shadow of the tall, strong man I had known. He was 56 and riddled with cancer... a horrible way to go.

I have also dressed a man I was married to and loved, after he had committed suicide and been autopsied. At the funeral home, prior to his cremation, I clothed him in his fancy Army dress uniform (he was in the Reserves up here in Canada), struggling with his heavy body, but managing to make him look so handsome, with his medals on his chest. That was in 1992 and I still tear up when I think of that time. He was 32. I was 33. It was the end of a short marriage... I had no idea he was suicidal.

But death, in all its forms, is around us everywhere, as it is a fact of life. Every living thing will die... whether it is tragically like our loved ones, in sleep and peacefully at the end of a long, full life, or struggling desperately, as in the fawn you saw.

Mon Feb 09, 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger Charmed said...

I am so sorry Jonas.

And you are wrong.

You are that brave.

Tue Feb 10, 08:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Ed said...

Seeing someone dead -- confronting the wasted body, the flesh pulled tight against bone -- was one of the experiences that drove the Buddha to undertake his spiritual journey. The world is profoundly richer for his experience.

I was there for the death of my father, Jonas, and I have since confronted him at random moments during zazen, and once heard him quite clearly beside me in the final hours of a week-long sesshin.

As my Zen teacher says, he's still my father.

Wed Feb 11, 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

I am touched, truly, deeply touched, that you chose to share your own experiences and reactions.

Death comes part and parcel with Life.

Wed Feb 11, 11:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Roads said...

Deep and profound.

Concerning your gratuitous non-sequitur ... Yazoo !

That's another old favourite of mine, too. Alison Moyet -- what a voice she has.

Thu Feb 12, 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger Woman in a Window said...

Oooooh

Fri Feb 13, 07:52:00 AM  
Blogger Scott from Oregon said...

There is something about a body without life that cannot be willed away. Something too mindful of what life actually is...

I prefer the memories of a life than the memories of a body without life.

We all do.

Sat Feb 14, 03:59:00 PM  

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