Who were these people whose shrouded bodies I now see?
Egyptian mummies lying in wait, neatly and tightly wrapped in white body bags stacked on stainless steel shelves.
Each body tagged – as if it were a piece of luggage. Otherwise anonymous. Genderless.
It’s cold in here and I pull in my jacket and zip it up. Protection. Comfort.
What were their stories? How was their ending? Peaceful? Painful? Expected?
Did it come after a long illness – perhaps a cancer which ate at their very bodies – and then attacked their soul? Was their going a blessed relief – for them and their loved ones? Or was their ending a bloody, tragic mess? The price they paid for being on the road? An overdose? A drunken brawl? A prank gone wrong?
I am distracted by the smell – the smell of death, and of an unfamiliar chemical, of bodies lying in wait – to be collected by their families’ nominated undertaker – or, more sadly, simply to be claimed by family or friend – anyone who will take responsibility for their burial.
My sadness then gives way to anger. A silent, raging anger.
I want to be alone in this clinical, anonymous resting place, but instead I am with the other students, the lecturer, and the hospital’s morgue technician, and it’s business as usual. Blah, blah, blah, blah. I zone in and out of the technician’s explanation and I hear bits and pieces: “heads elevated, bodily fluids, drainage pipes, central collection points, Jews, Muslims, special burial customs.”
They are talking – not in hushed and reverent voices but in their normal conversational voice. I want to scream, to tell them to shut up and exercise some reverence.
I feel my anxiety rising – it’s in my throat and I’m finding it hard to breathe. As if I have a watermelon lodged there, sideways. I try to swallow.
I do the only thing I think is appropriate in this eerie setting: I hold my tongue, bow my head, join my hands and pray for them: “Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”
I pray, too, for their families.
And then I begin to breathe and come back to where I am. Fully present.
“Get a grip,” I berate myself.
“This is a large city hospital.” “What the hell do you think happens here?”
People get patched up. Some live, others die. Death is the only certainty in life.
© Terry Finch 2021