Life can be sobering. Earlier today I saw fire trucks lining the street, EMS, and heard a young woman across the street screaming. Children, teenagers and adults lined the edge of the brownstones steps. The young woman continued to scream. The EMS ran into the house with those heart paddles, then he came back out a short time later putting the life saving devices away. Obviously they were not needed. I knew the person whoever they were had died. Silence from neighbors except for the young lady who continued to scream.
Eventually someone possibly a family member took her away but I did not see them remove the body. Well a short time ago Medical Examiner/Coroner came and brought out the individual in a body bag. Living in the city death is not a new experience. I remember sometime last year I witnessed the aftermath of a horrible accident where a cyclist was killed when hit when a car and van collided and he was unfortunately in the midst. The collision was so powerful that the entire front grill of the van landed in the middle of the side several feet away. The cops had covered his body but given the amount of people who die on any given day in New York it may take hours before the body is removed.
Some insensitive people were taking photos of the scene. Now as a photographer I draw the line at photographing death, bodies or horrible accidents out of respect for the dead.
My only beef with our American Society is you are not allowed to grieve after the funeral. You are expected to go back to normal. To smile, laugh, and make jokes as though nothing had happened. People give you loads of meaningless platitudes but no compassion nor understanding. Obviously if you’re still working you must return to your job but you can never discuss your feelings or emotions. The expectation is for you to “Get Over it” despite the fact that your life has changed in an irreversible way.
I’m not one to discuss or share my emotions about the deaths of friends, family members or pets but at least others should respect my right to mourn not expect me to hit the town partying or celebrating certain holidays which they know cause pain. Since I’ve turned 50 many years ago I’ve seen and been to many funerals. The half century mark is when heart attacks, strokes and cancer begin to claim our loved ones. Some of us get lucky and escape but it does make you stop and think. Can’t say I’m afraid to die. I am afraid of pain. My parents, Aunts and others died terrible painful deaths from cancer and strokes. I do not want that to be my portion. I hope I die in my sleep in my 70s or 80s. Neither of my parents made it to 70 so if I do that will be an accomplishment.
Watching this drama play out I wonder how that person died. Was it murder, suicide, or death by misadventure (accident). My heart and prayers also go out to that young woman who was so devastated. I suppose in a week or two I’ll hear the cries of mourners and maybe see the hearse pass by. I remember when my parents died the funeral director asked me if I wanted to drive by their house one more time. This gives the deceased a chance to go home if not in the flesh but in spirit one more time. Perhaps this is an African American tradition. I’m not sure.
Then I think about my cousin Bertie (not his real name) who died right before Christmas 2014 at his home alone from cancer. I cried when my other cousin call to tell me of his passing but I had to pull myself together since like me Bertie was single and I had to find his body. Sounds strange but both Bertie and I lived in the same Brooklyn neighborhood. and when you die alone the police come, the coroner takes your body to the morgue. My mission was to locate which morgue they took him to until his elderly brother arrived from PA to identify the body. The police were very kind and considerate and the officers gave me all the information I needed to locate his body. Eventually I found out he was taken to the Brooklyn morgue. The person who answered the phone said I could come in to make the identification but I held back since he had probably lain dead for a while, decomposing.
Little did I know that Thanksgiving 2014 would be the last time Stephen and I would see Bertie alive. We both knew he was going to die. He was so weak that Stephen and I had a time getting him from New Jersey back to Brooklyn. We took him straight to his door. When we finally made it to our home Stephen did something he rarely does. He put his head on my shoulder and we just held each other. A few weeks later Bertie was dead.
Death is a great reminder that life is short and often brutal. Like my parents used to say Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. Death is the great equalizer that takes the young as well as the old, the poor and the rich. Race, color, religion or nationality mean nothing to death. Whatever plans, purpose, ideas or goals you may have had will go down to the grave with you in dust. Unfinished business. Most likely never to be resurrected again. You become just a picture in a frame. A distant memory that will be forgotten as time passes. However as a Christian I know my reward lies beyond this moral veil. For then I shall be reunited with all my Loved ones in that Great Getting up Morning in Paradise.
Thomas Dorsey-Take My Hand, Precious Lord