Friday, August 31, 2007

A few notes about death

Many year ago, at the Northwest Folklife Festival, I had my palm read by a woman from the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh community in Oregon (remember them?). She said that I "dance with death," not in the sense of inviting it, but in the sense of being comfortable around it.

In the past few days, I've certainly been around it too much.

Our ancient Himalayan-Abyssinian cat is slowly running out of steam, but determined to hang in there, eating and drinking and demanding attention. She has some sort of tumor that is affecting her ability to breathe, and may have some other issues as well. The vet prescribed pills to stimulate her appetite and help her lungs. So twice a day I get to wrestle with a skeletal but still quite feisty cat.

This makes life at home intense and tiring, although we love Betaille very much and are grateful for all the companionship and pleasure she has provided over the past 17 years.

Three weeks ago, one of my yoga-group friends found out that her husband had a very advanced cancer. It progressed rapidly, and he died at home Wednesday night. She had barely gotten her head around the idea he was sick! I can't imagine a more horrifying experience.

This morning (after I'd had a trying night with Betaille) my mother called with news of a death -- and a completely different perspective on the subject.

My mom lives in a four-unit condo, and for the past few years, she and two other unit owners have been trying to deal with a weird situation in the fourth unit. That unit has been occupied for many years by a reclusive elderly woman who never leaves (unless by ambulance), and who has breathing and mobility problems. She sits all day in her livingroom with an oxygen tank, watching TV, and refuses to consider moving to a retirement community or nursing home. A few years ago, her middle-aged son, who is a schizophrenic, came to live with her. He takes care of her shopping and cooking. Unfortunately, he also brings drunk friends over to stay in the condo's storage unit, and last year urinated repeatedly in the foyer, to the point that the Post Office refused to enter the building to deliver the mail. (He also urinates off the front balcony, to the consternation of the woman in the condo building next door.) The son is a heavy smoker, and often the building reeks of smoke (my mom had her unit sealed off with special paint and caulk) and the ventilation system for the building has had to be re-done a few times to prevent the smoke from getting into other units. A couple of years ago, this guy set the balcony on fire, resulting in so much damage to the stucco that the entire building had to be re-stuccoed. According to workmen and fire inspectors who have been in the unit, it's filthy.

The police have been called again and again, letters have been sent, but the condominium association has been unable to do much of anything about the situation; once they address one problem, another one appears. My mother, who is planning to move to a retirement community next year, has begun to worry that it will be very difficult for her to find a buyer for her unit with such a weird and possibly hazardous situation in the building.

So my mom wasn't exactly mournful when she called me this morning with the news that the elderly neighbor (let's call her Margo) had died during the neight. It seems that the retired gentleman who is the head of the condo association had just gotten a call from Margo's son, wanting to know what to do with the body.

"Did anyone call 911?" I asked.

"No, they don't want to cause a fuss," my mother explained.

I tried to point out that the death has to be reported and checked out by a medical examiner, so a death certificate can be issued. Since everyone was so resistant to the idea of bothering the folks at 911, I suggested as casually as possible that they just call over and ask 911 what they should do.

Now I am trying to let go of the vision of all of them wrapping Margo up in a tarp, putting her in a car, and driving over to the local funeral home...


1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness. I had a similar experience about 9 years ago. My mother passed after a short illness, then we lost a cat we had for only 13 years, I still miss him, then an aunt got sick. It is too much. My grandmother used to say if it rains it pours and that's how I felt.
    Take care,