b3ta.com qotw
You are not logged in. Login or Signup
Home » Question of the Week » Have you ever seen a dead body? » Post 124757 | Search
This is a question Have you ever seen a dead body?

How did you feel?
Upset? Traumatised? Relieved? Like poking it with a stick?

(, Thu 28 Feb 2008, 9:34)
Pages: Latest, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, ... 1

« Go Back

An ordinary tragedy
I remember it being nice and warm – one of those early summer nights when you can hear people chatting in their gardens and mowing their lawns. There were some of those midges or flies or whatever they are in the air, those little clouds of hazy insects which look like solidified heat. My father died in August; was it early in that summer, or was it the summer before? He was ill for three years. My instinct is that it was the year before he died. That would be 1998. My mother’s friend Fiona and her husband Eric brought him and my mother to hospital in their stupid people carrier car (although they have four children, so perhaps it was fair enough). I remember that desperate pounding up and down of stairs which usually accompanies a death or a birth. No-one really told us what was going on, but I didn’t mind then, and I don’t mind now. Now I realise everyone was too busy getting my dad to hospital to fill us in, and then I was just glad because I knew I wouldn’t have to do any homework and could play on the N64. It was definitely a school night, probably a Tuesday or Wednesday. I really fucking hate Tuesday. Has anything good, ever, happened to anyone on a Tuesday?

Apparently my father’s stent had filled with bile, and it was choking him. A stent is a small tube, usually made of metal or plastic, which can be used to bypass a blockage in someone’s body. I think this stent was bypassing his bile duct, which the tumour had started to strangle. It then filled up with bile itself. (At the time, this struck me as a fairly self-evident design flaw; what would stop it from filling up straight away? I’m sure there’s a good answer to that question, formulated by someone cleverer than myself.) I remember the four adults roaring off in the people carrier, and all I could think about was what a good excuse this would be at school the next day for not having done my homework. I’d like to tell you that I feel bad about having thought that, but I don’t. The thing about my father being so ill for so long was that it became normal; it really wasn’t a big deal. When he finally died all I felt was a kind of detached curiosity. I wanted to see how things would pan out, how people would react, and I wanted to witness death and bereavement up close. In his very last few days there was some sort of nurse woman there the whole time, just sitting by his bed. I’ve no doubt she was extremely highly trained, but it struck me as an easy (if depressing) job. Either she came and woke me up, or my mum did, early on the 1st of August, 1999, to tell me that he had died. He looked exactly the same dead, although in truth he’d been a withered shell of a man for months and months beforehand anyway. His arms and legs were like tinder wrapped in grey cloth, and his stomach had swollen (I don’t know why). My mum was surprisingly calm. I sat on the bed next to him, not because I wanted to say goodbye but because I wanted to touch a dead body. He was still warm, but even sitting with him for a few minutes I could feel him cooling. Cooling finally; absolutely. It reminded me of a Lego ghost I used to have as a child. The ghost was a completely black Lego man over which you fitted a white ghost sheet thing. If you left it out under a light for a while, the shell would absorb the light, and would then glow in the dark when you switched the light off. I would leave the ghost out under the light for hours, in the hope that it would glow all night, but I would usually wake up at some point to find my ethereal companion had spent his small supply of light. It wasn’t a scary ghost. Lego ghosts are quite friendly – the kind who are just lonely, and would like some friends to play with, but don’t have any because everyone is too afraid to get to know them.

I also reached over to my father’s face and opened his eyes. I can’t remember what they looked like – I wanted to see if simply passing my hand lightly over his face would close his eyes, as I had seen in so many war and cowboy films. I think it worked, but my mother asked me to stop. I’ve no idea where the nurse woman had gotten to. My mum also went and told my brother, but I’m not sure if he ever saw the body; he went into his room and closed the door, and stayed there for a day or so. You know how sometimes, a door is closed, and you just know not to open it? You know that whoever is in the room really doesn’t want you in there? That’s what my brother’s bedroom door was like on the day my father died. The undertakers came and brought with them this ridiculous plastic coffin thing (it actually bent) to put my father in. I think it even had really long fabric straps, like a holdall. They put my father into it – large, sweating men, beefily shovelled into scratchy black suits on a sweltering August morning – and began to bring him downstairs. My brother’s room was at the top of the stairs, and to manoeuvre the coffin/Tupperware thing round the corner one of the undertakers opened my brother’s room. I imagine that might have upset him, seeing the end of his father’s coffin poke into his bedroom for a second or two before disappearing again. My mother very quickly asked the undertakers not to open that door.

My father’s sister and her family arrived later on that day. They had been on holiday in Spain and had had to cut the break short to come to England. Were his two other brothers there already? I don’t think so. I remember they had come for a few weeks that Easter, but I don’t think either of them got there until the next day. I was glad my cousin Fiona was there, as we went for cigarettes together. I was also glad that I had a cast-iron excuse for not going in to work at McDonalds. However, I quickly grew tired of the whole thing. The sitting around, the constant stream of people I had no interest in coming to the house, particularly the people who had made no effort to see him while he was ill. There was a funeral in Newmarket, then another, along with the burial, in Athenry. The mechanics of transporting a body from one country to another were as tedious and grinding as you might imagine. I was sick of being told to be strong for my mother; I don’t remember anyone actually offering me their condolences. Eager to spread some of my pain around, I refused to talk to one of my friends who had not mentioned the death, until he sent a card expressing his regret. It felt good to hurt someone – I knew that he hadn’t said anything because he didn’t know what to say, not out of callousness. I just wanted someone else to suffer.
Some years the anniversary passes, and I don’t even realise. When I do remember I phone my mother. Ideally, when I remember I try to act withdrawn and moody all day so that someone will ask me what’s wrong, and I can tell them and elicit sympathy. Not that I enjoy sympathy, or feel like I can do anything with it. Probably the best year was when I had just been dumped by a girl I was in love with – the first girl I had ever been in love with – and on the anniversary she texted me asking how I was. (She didn’t know about the anniversary; perhaps it was some small crumb of bitter reward from the fates?) I replied, gleeful and spiky with hatred, that I wasn’t that good, actually, as it was the anniversary of my dad’s death. I didn’t give a shit about the anniversary, but it was a great opportunity to a) make her feel sorry for me and b) try and hurt her. She immediately rang me, and I put the phone down on her. I take it you don’t want to talk to me, she texted. Don’t ever contact me again, I replied. Her response was more than I could have hoped for – texts, emails, letters, all of which I ignored. I felt like Achilleus, eating his heart out by the seashore. I think at that point – just after doing my A Levels – I had a job as a waiter, so I was free all day to seethe against this girl. Spending countless hours of that blazing summer in my room staring at the ceiling. Pissing away all that heat and light and time. It was fucking brilliant, and it was also one of the worst times of my life. Of course after a while (a fairly short while) she stopped trying to contact me; being pretty, and intelligent, and friendly, she was in demand, while I was not (I know, I have no idea either). But she would later tell me in a letter that she went to university “not able to trust people because of you”, so I take some comfort from that. Why does it feel so good to hurt people? Why does it feel so good to get hurt? As a child, I could never understand songs and books which talked about the pleasure in pain. It seemed silly and self-defeating to enjoy situations which were painful. Then you get a bit older, and you start to experience some of these things for yourself, and you realise that getting hurt does feel good. Maybe, as well, it’s necessary to take pleasure from pain, simply because so much of life is made of up of it. What do you get, honestly, from a life? Huge, yawning chasms of tedium and boredom, punctuated by occasional spikes of despair and pain and even rarer hillocks of pleasure. Little foothills of fun and enjoyment which are soon bulldozed flat by the endless grey monotony of life in general.
(, Thu 28 Feb 2008, 12:15, 4 replies)

wow - how about some paras?

(, Thu 28 Feb 2008, 12:25, closed)
How am I supposed to browse the boards at work when I keep losing my place every time I am forced to actually focus my attention on something work related? Ah plan, I'll use a marker and highlight where I was on the screen before changing window focus. Possible top tip winner eh

Prollum sulvd
(, Thu 28 Feb 2008, 12:30, closed)
Wow! Bitter and twisted, seriously get some counselling.
(, Thu 28 Feb 2008, 14:28, closed)
Is being hurt the main way you can feel?
Sounds like you're depressed, dissociated, empty.
Speak to someone experienced in counselling/psychotherapy (similar thing really).
(, Fri 29 Feb 2008, 21:30, closed)

« Go Back

Pages: Latest, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, ... 1