Monday, January 17, 2011

I was twelve the first time I saw a dead body. My great-grandmother lay in her coffin and we all filtered past to pay our respects to a lovely woman. I remember how peaceful she looked, but still became choked up and had to look away before my pre-teen emotions got away from me.

At that moment I think I realized for the first time just how final death is. I would know longer see her sitting at the kitchen table doing her word searches or playing the hundredth hand of solitaire.

In 2002 my grandfather passed away. I remember the call about him being rushed to the hospital and I wanted to be at his side but then the snow came and there was no way I could get there to say my goodbyes. A couple of days later he was gone. In retrospect I am glad my last memory of him is not of him laying in a hospital bed. He was cremated and I still hold on to my earlier memories.

In 2007 a friend took his own life. There was a viewing before the funeral service but I had no intention of seeing him lying there. However, you had to pass right by the viewing room in order to get to the service. And morbid curiosity got the better of me. I didn’t go in the room, but I did see him lying there, finally at peace.

In all of these cases, someone was there. All of these people had loved ones that they left behind and who knew the instant they were gone. They didn’t die alone, they were missed the second they were gone.

This past Thursday I walk out of my apartment to see an ambulance and two police trucks outside of the apartment building next door. I watched for awhile until one of the paramedics came out. Nothing of interest. Probably a false alarm. The ambulance left but the police remained.

A short time later I had to walk past these vehicles and for the first time noticed another car, hidden behind the third police car. The logo on the side, Office of the Medical Examiner. They don’t come out unless someone is dead, I thought. Again my morbid curiosity took over and thoughts went through my head of who it could be but I don’t know that many people in my apartment complex. I knew there was an elderly lady that lived in that building but I had never spoken to her. Who else could it be? Only the elderly are supposed to die. Right?

A short time later I saw a stretcher on the ground but never did see them remove the body. It was too bloody cold to stay outside for that long. The vehicles left and all was forgotten.

Several hours later I see a fire truck outside our building. I go outside to see what’s going on but there is no action. No fire. I watch for awhile and finally a fireman and our landlady walk out of the next building. I am a little nosy by nature, I have no trouble asking people questions that probably aren’t any of my business. The landlady walks past me and of course I ask her if someone died earlier.

To summarize, this is apparently what happened. 911 was called earlier in the day because of a bad smell in the building. Obviously the police and ambulance arrived first. Discovered a body that, according to my landlady had been dead for a couple of days. I instantly question that, not to her, but internally. How long does it take a dead body to smell? From my experience of watching all the crime and forensic television I do, I am sure it takes longer than 2 days for a dead body to smell up an entire building. It’s been cold out, but certainly it was probably warmer in the apartment. But it would have to be really warm for a body to smell that quickly. My best, uneducated assumption, is that he had to be dead closer to a week.

This could be argued, and that’s fine, because I don’t really know the answer. There are too many variables. The fact of the matter is, a 40 year old, male, dead body lay in his apartment for days. No one missed him until the building started to smell.

Cause of death is unknown. Could have been medical related, could have been drugs, could have been suicide. But no one missed him. He had to be found by emergency personnel.

I did some research on the decomposition of a human body. Did you know it turns green, then purple, then black? The organs are consumed by bacteria until they become liquid. This is what causes the bad odor which no one can actually describe unless you’ve experienced it first hand. The best I could find is it’s a combination of ammonia and garbage. That doesn’t offer much. But it’s bad. I feel for the people in the building, I feel for the young man who was essentially left to rot. How could there not be someone that missed him before it got to that point?

Just makes me appreciate those I have around me, that much more.

1 comment:

  1. Both my grandparents, on my mother's side, died last year. Without doubt, the disappearance of loved ones from your life makes you ponder the transitoriness of life and the inevitability of death. We say it so much it's become a cliche, but it's still true: Live each day to the fullest, because you never know which one will be your last.


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