Friday, March 12, 2010

My First Witnessing of a Passing

Perhaps because I have just finished a mystery novel, I was pondering death tonight. It may seem painfully obvious to say that a mystery story dealt with death, but this one did in a different sort of way. And when I say that "I was pondering death," I do not mean in any deep or metaphysical manner. Rather, for some reason I simply began to recall my first experience with death: seeing death, I mean, rather than being touched by the death of a loved one.

I have only witnessed two actual parting moments in my lifetime, and with any luck those will be the only two that will ever see, since I will most likely be the next on the list — hopefully not in the very near future, however, as it's not as if I am exactly anxious to get on with it as it were. The first was of a young boy: the second of an old lady. He was a stranger; she was my mother. In the first instance, I was young: in the second, I was old or late middle-aged, rather. This is about the first death as best as my memory will permit me to describe it.

Late on a winter afternoon, I chanced upon a small group staring at something lying on Grenet St, near it's intersection with Oxford St, kitty-corner to Fordhams Grocery store in Montreal. I can't tell you what I was doing in that location. It was very near my friend's, Nelson's, house, so I suppose I could have seen him home after school and continued on my way. The thing is that this sighting had me going the opposite way from my own house. I'll have to leave the speculation because I just don't know.

I was drawn to the small gathering: only a few adults, all male, clustered around ...

A boy was lying in the middle of the road, on his back, eyes shut, breathing out heavily, pursing his lips with each exhalation. I only saw a few breaths before he ... they ... stopped. One of the men did something to confirm the passage, but I can't remember whether he took the boy's pulse, felt his heart, or put his ear to the boy's mouth. I do remember that he said, "He's gone." He said it, but he didn't have to, for I knew. In my own meditative way, I knew.

I also knew what happened although I can't remember if I heard it said or just figured it out. He had been struck by a vehicle. I can't recall seeing one nearby; certainly there wasn't one right by the boy in the middle of the road. Perhaps it had been a hit and run, for there wasn't the keening or wailing that one might expect from a poor soul who might have hit the poor boy.

My surprising thought, now just as it was then, was how easy it, the passing, was. He simply stopped breathing. He was there, and then he wasn't. I was probably ten years old give or take, and I was calm and not distraught. I went on my way without waiting for the police or an ambulance, filing the event in my childhood brain. I can't say now whether I told my parents at suppertime; I assume I did, but if so I can't remember getting much of a reaction from them. Perhaps, they thought I had made up a story, but I have never been much of a storyteller, so I can't say. Perhaps they were concerned, but since I wasn't, their reaction did not make an impression on me.

I have since learned that for the most part, dying is not an easy and quick process, but it did seem that way to my young mind, and in that particular case, I guess it really was, for he was unconscious and then only for a short while before he took his last breath. It still seems odd to me, however, that my young self processed it so calmly and phlegmatically. I'm not even sure if I told my best friend although I suspect that I would have — in very laid back and undramatic factual fashion, of course. For I am not a storyteller.

11 comments:

Bernie said...

I have held five people in my arms as they passed A/C, some were peaceful some were a struggle but everyone has left a mark on my heart......I knew and loved them all but I pray I won't have to experience this again.....they have only completed a journey we all have to travel one day for dying is a part of living....Hugs

Donna said...

Retired nurse here...hospitals. I've seen too many. Some were actually Happy! I say it that way because of their reactions to death. And I say Death to refer to Life...anew. One little old lady was actually excited because she was about to see her husband again. She planned on his arrival, and by Damn if she wasn't right! I truly believe he was there, in the room, waiting for her to follow him...
I was 10. My Dad was a Chiropractor in a small farming community. Our neighbors teenage son had drowned in their tank after a day of swimming, and the parents were frantic...They wanted Daddy to bring him back, but he was already gone. I stood back out of the circle of people that had gathered to watch my poor father try to do the impossible. He did Everything he could but to no avail. The boy was gone. Daddy never got over it.
I suppose now, looking back, that's why I'm not really afraid of "death"...Yes, it can be hard...but I choose to remember the absolute happiness I've witnessed and shared with not only family members but perfect strangers...There IS another life after this one...and when it's my time, I'm going to be flying high on a song...No fear...

Sorry Ac, I CAN get wordy, can't I?!!!Hahaaa...
hughugs

KGMom said...

Witnessing such a moment helps explain why some of the traditional church liturgy is phrased the way it is--be with us now and at the moment of our death.

I have witnessed an autopsy--and was struck by the thought: whatever made this body a man has fled in an instant. I suppose that something would be soul, though no one sees or can define "soul." What is the spark of life?

I am thinking that reading mystery novels stirs deep remembrances in you.

Barry said...

I've only been present in hospitals at the time of someone's passing. Invariably they were elderly and their death was a release from pain.

How I would react to seeing a death on the street, and can't say and am in no hurry to find out.

A very thoughtful post Anvil. How different death is in real life compared to fiction.

Bachelor said...

I have not been present for the actual death of a loved one or friend. I was down in the hospital cafe when my father passed away in 2007. Thats the closest I've come. Barry mentioned death in fiction. The two movie death scenes I "like" best are in "Little Women" and "Fried Green Tomatoes". Interesting post, my friend! :) The Bach

Diana said...

By the way AC you are a wonderful story teller! In my mind I think that perhaps the boys death didn't faze you very much partially because you didn't know him. I also think that certain emotions take time to develop as we grow.
Love Di ♥

Doris said...

Oh my! You described this incident so well. It was a factual re-telling but is chilling just the same. I am not sure how I would respond to seeing something like that. Probably with profound sadness. I would think that to actually see the striking of the boy by the vehicle would invoke horror.
I think of death very often (more so as I get older) and I find that if I don't fall asleep quickly at night my thoughts turn to wondering what lying on one's death bed would feel like. Of course, it must be different for different people and their conditions prior to death. Regarding death, I am so grateful that euthanasia exists for our pets. I have been present at all the deaths of my cats in my adulthood except for one who died suddenly at home while I was out.

Kila said...

Thought about the same subject this afternoon. As I drove to the post office, I passed a neighbor's home with a county sheriff's car and ambulance outside it. When I came back, the sheriff's car was still there, but the ambulance had been replaced by the county's Medical Examiner vehicle, and I realized a neighbor has just passed away. Just like that, someone who was with us this morning did not live to see the evening sunset.

I think of death quite often. Does not scare me.

Queenmothermamaw said...

Been trying to catch up on Sepia Saturday and this is about the 4th post about death I have read tonight. Having been an RN and an x-ray tech in the ER in my early days, I have seen much death. The suffering is the worse, not the dying. I pray every day I will be ready to go. I don't want to leave but I am not afraid of death either. You are a great story teller A/C. Blessings
QMM

Ruth said...

The first death I witnessed in my early 20s upset me greatly, but I have learned that our culture's taboos and concealment of the dying contributed to my reaction. Dying is part of life and we do well to talk about it. I like your post.

simplycol said...

Death in our society has become something that usually happens hidden away behind a closed door in a hospital bed. It's too bad really. Working in an intensive care unit I deal with death and dying on an almost daily basis. Two patients died on my last shift alone. I often feel privileged to be present at these times. A quiet peaceful death with family close by can be a very spiritual thing. Death is an emotional thought provoking experience.