Coroner’s Tales; A Death in the Family
The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the way of the samurai.
My body lay slumped on the floor. A perfectly naturally positioned cadaver, apart from my right leg with its awkwardly positioned knee under torso. I was inclined to roll me over but hesitated to take a closer look at myself in situ. I leaned over, craning my neck to inspect further.
It was warm. A shard of light shone through the sun bleached window, creating a phantom portrait framing my corpse. I thumbed the torch button. I have found that even the best lit rooms conspire to keep certain things hidden. I’m an experienced death investigator,the same torch having shone into the eyes, mouths and ears of hundreds of bodies. I question my abundant capacity to detach. Perhaps my mirror neurons malfunction creating a vortex devoid of empathy. But the simpler rationale was that I’d been in this Coroner game far too long. I was beyond caring, even for my dead self.
No obvious trauma. The face of the dead me was partially obscured by my dead arm. Almost like a bastardized version of how I would sleep on my bed each night. Yet, this version would sleep no longer. No comforting down pillow. My life, snuffed out and a living version of me investigating the very death of a dead me.
No blood, no vomit and no soiling of the pants. I placed my torch on the floor, took the I.D. badge and threw the cord around the back of my neck so as to avoid hitting the dead me with it. This work should always be carried out with a degree of dignity and respect for the decedent, even if that decedent happened to be me.
I used both arms to pull me from my prone position to supine. Death does things to a body that make it less compliant. And, I’m not just referring to the stiffening of joints due to rigor. Imagine trying to lift a person who relaxes completely where no limbs can then be used for leverage making it difficult to move.
It was then that I caught the first glimpse of my own face, my eyes, my nose, my mouth. Whenever I see a fresh corpse, a small part of me imagines the eyes suddenly opening. Even after having seen co many corpses, I still find this illogical thought troubling. Dead bodies are curious things. They are the ultimate expression of an ‘ending’; a person who has had their life force pulled from under their feet like a cosmic rug.
I’ve been to many death scenes. Including the most gruesome ones where the aroma of a putrefying corpse flicks at the nasal cavity like the tongue of a serpent. The smell so overpowering that you taste it, as it becomes part of you, soaking through your clothes into your skin.
I carry these thoughts to each scene. And here I am carrying it to the scene where I had died. As the laying me continued to lay motionless, the standing me took a deep breath. I was unnerved catching my own reflection in mine own eyes. I leaned forward again, finding the pupils fixed and dilated and the sclera of the eyes gleaming clear and marble white. The dead me looked tired, bags under eyes. A literal example of a life that had been spent fueled with worries. ‘Had it been worth living?’ the living me lamented.
My dead lips had an even pallor. These same lips that would never love or be loved again. Lips that had always been predestined from birth to eventually wither. All that was required was the passage of time. Left untouched, gasses would build up forming large pustules on my body. They would burst and the body would continue to liquefy. Flies would lay eggs creating maggot activity over and within my body. A feeding frenzy which would result in the rustling of these tiny white creatures under the skin.
A mentor who had helped train me as a death investigator had explained during my first few weeks that dead bodies are designed to self destruct, seldom in any pleasant way. Drugs, ambient temperature, exposure – all have a part to play in how quickly or slowly a body turns to gooey mush.
The living me felt the fingers on the dead me. Early signs of rigor. Why had I died alone? Why does anyone have to die alone? I attempted to manipulate the elbow and jaw, to further confirm the stiffness that sets in about 12 hours after death. Lividity was fixed, the blood having pooled and clogged in those parts of me that had been faced down. No warmth.
The living me sighed and felt afraid. His collar tightened with a noose of emotion. A shiver ran up his skin and crawled, writhing in his veins. He felt a stabbing pain in his chest. A cacophony of silence came crashing within the walls of his ears; blood filled empty sound. He strained himself to appear calm.
‘We will all die… even you and I’, the thought striking him in a palpable way. Albert Camus was correct, we are all on a futile search for meaning, unity and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of eternal truth and value. No one cares. We all live a meaningless life full of strife and pain. We die and fade into oblivion.
The living me switched off his torch.