A Close up Look at Death

I entered the mortuary with my heart in my throat and my father at my side. Nerves wracked through my gut, I had no idea how I would react when I first saw my uncle. Would I freeze? Would I not be able to go into the room?

I shakily opened the door and began to walk inside, as I rounded the corner I began to glimpse him. Like an animatronic in a horror show, I barely recognised him. Laying so still with his features so gaunt. I could see the glue on his lips that they used to keep his mouth from opening. Tears began to fill my eyes.

I sat next to the coffin with my Dad on the opposite side. I watched as he stroked his little brothers head and cried. I watched for a long time, this was much worse than any sad movie I’d seen on TV. ‘You can kiss him on his head if you like, it will make you feel better.’ My Dad said as he lent over the coffin to kiss his little brothers head. I stood up to do the same but an invisible wall stopped me from moving any closer to his face. ‘I don’t think I can,’ I said with a withering voice. I settled for patting his hands that were resting in his lap. They felt very cold, no one warned me of how cold they would feel. I withdrew quickly.

I stayed sat on my chair as the rest of my fathers very catholic family arrived. My Nona and my uncles three sisters all sat and proceeded to kiss his head, stroke his hands, speak to him and weep.

I sat staring at my uncles body, boxed in due to my Italian speaking being limited, barely being able to even offer my words of sympathy and regret.

This is horrible, I thought. But I also thought that this is necessary.

You Need to See This

My uncle died very suddenly at the age of 59. He was always fit and strong but a hidden virus attacked his heart whilst he was at the gym. He suddenly collapsed and without oxygen getting to his brain for over 40 minutes, he died shortly after being airlifted to hospital.

He left behind two young children and a grieving wife. He was a legend in the small Italian village where my family is from. This was duely shown by the hundreds of people that gathered to walk with his coffin through the streets, as is the tradition in Catholic Italy.

What proceeded throughout that day was very much, so far, the worst day of my life. Nothing quite beats standing around an open grave and watching a loved one being lowered into it whilst his 90 year old wailing mother cries out “No, my son, my son!” Begging them not to lower him any further, as you cling onto your Dad whilst he cries like you’ve never seen him cry before.

Yet throughout all of this ordeal all I could feel was ashamed. Ashamed that I’d not come to any of my relatives funerals before, this was my first one. Being in England, it’s very easy to say that you can’t make an event such as this, to have my Dad go back alone. “I have work!” You say, or “I can’t get a flight!” But I realised on this day that I was being weak. Weak and selfish. No one likes going to funerals, but you still have to go. You have to out of respect for the person that died and to support your family. There’s also one other reason why you need to go.

To become acute to the actualisation of mortality.

This event changed me, and I think for the better. After witnessing loved ones surrounding a dead body, this unmoving sack of organs that invokes repulsiveness and putridisity, this thing that you normally aquaint to nightmares and horror movies. After seeing them not only surrounding this thing but kissing it, stroking it, and mourning over it. You realise that this dead thing has the features of someone you love, and it’s not a recreation…It’s actually them. This is what we all turn into, every single one of us.

Everyone knows this, but we don’t really know it, we suppress it. People beleive that they’re immortal subcontiously, why else would we fight with the ones we love? Why else would we defer spending time with each other? We wouldn’t do a lot of these things if we knew. If we knew the truth that someday, sooner than you think, we’ll be that unmoving sack that everyone will be mourning over, unable to reach up and tell them that you love them and always have.

So, I implore you all to listen. Go to the ones you love, your children, your parents, your partner, and tell them that you love them. Cut arguments short, try to speak civilly with the love and respect that we all deserve. Make the effort to do nice things with each other and to make happy memories, as one day very soon, we’ll all be gone.


12 thoughts on “A Close up Look at Death

  1. I’m sorry for you loss. I gather this happened recently?…

    I remember the feeling you’re describing very vividly, when I attended the funeral of my grand dad 5 years ago. My wife was pregnant with our daughter at the time, and I cried my eyes out, when the minister mentioned the fact that my grand dad would never meet his first grand child.

    Death is rough, man…But like you say, there’s nothing like a funeral to remind us of the importance of living 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Hey Nick! Thanks dude. Yeah – it was a few weeks ago, this has been sitting as a draft for a bit.

      That’s so sad 🙁 Life can be heart-wrenching at times.

  2. I can really relate to this. My cousin died suddenly aged 51 two years ago of a massive heart attack. I’d fortunately spoken to him just the evening before then got a phone call from my dad who could barely speak through the tears to tell me he’d gone. I’m not close to many of my family so it’s was a massive shock.
    A guy I work with has just been diagnosed with highly aggressive cancer in several organs. He’s 58
    It’s funny the effect events like this have on different people. Several people at work used it as evidence for the ‘live for the day’ mentality. They said they were going to spend all their money because things like this happen and you could be dead tomorrow..
    While I can understand this attitude For me it absolutely crystallised that by the time I’m 50 in 12 years time I want at the least to be work optional if not fully able to leave. I’m not living like a monk in the meantime don’t get me wrong but it really makes me consider what’s important. Getting a bigger mortgage or a nicer car just suddenly seems like a complete waste of the opportunity I have. The stress of funding those things just isn’t worth it in comparison to be abke to travel and enjoy life with less stress.

    1. It’s definitely the mentality my Dad is taking – “Life is shit so live it whilst you can, buy things and have fun.” He’s still very dismissive when I talk about saving, yet he’s 62 and still working, waiting for his state pension. It seems that the more people that die, the more he gets into this mentality, especially when people of his age or younger are dropping around him. It’s heart-wrenching, but at his age, there’s not too much he can do.

  3. I’m so sorry Ninja. Death of a loved one is so hard.

    I’ve had to face the death of number of friends and family over the years. Your last paragraph completely resonated with me. We all think that we’ll live forever and that we’ll have as long as we want to spend with those we love. It’s just not true. We can’t put things off we need to enjoy every moment we can with our loved ones.

    1. Thanks Caveman. Yeah, unfortunately, I think this is one of those things that we each have to learn individually. It’s so easy to fall into the rhythm of normality and think that nothing will ever change, especially when you’re younger. You’ll only miss it (or them) when it’s gone.

  4. So sorry to hear of your loss, SN – thank you for sharing this, we all need reminding every now and again to make time for our loved ones.

    I have elderly relatives on the other side of the world so I know at some point, I will be making that trip over for the inevitable – knowing and being mentally prepared however are very different things.

    1. Thanks Weenie, we definitely do. It’s sad sometimes how little it sticks.

      It’s much easier to disassociate yourself with relatives that are far away, good that you’ll make the trip!

  5. Sorry to hear of your loss mate. I bet writing this must have been hard? I was practically in tears just reading it as it brought back memories of funerals I’ve been to. But hopefully also cathartic in some way as well.

    I’m not sure I could handle an open coffin though.

    I was the first person to see my grandad collapsed on the floor (mum and dad were on holiday so they asked me to go round and check on him). It’s an image that is burned into the back of my retinas and one I will never forget. He was one to very much live for the day, within the parameters that his generation were generally permitted, and died with practically nothing in the bank. I hope I can plan my retirement drawdown strategy as well as that 🙂

    1. Thanks man. Yeah, it was difficult to write it, but it felt nice to write down my thoughts. I wrote it on the same day. It’s one of the unknown benefits of blogging, you have an outlet for your thoughts, to gather them and hone them into something understandable.

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