Death

By the time I posted the article last week, one of my best friends had died.

It was too late to claw back on the text, and emotions were running much too high. You need emotion to write, what the Latinos call corazón caliente, but it must be tempered with perspective.

My friend died alone, in the middle of the night. She suffered a massive heart attack, and when the family came to pick her up for lunch on Saturday, they broke down the door and found her dead.

A decade ago, she helped me review the translation of The India Road, and I remember sitting in her front room laughing at the way a couple of the sex scenes had been phrased—we both felt the Portuguese translator had a lot to learn in that department.

We had a lot of fun correcting that text—hopefully when the Portuguese edition was published, the new versions did their job and stirred the hormones of female and male readers alike—or at least some of them.

We had lunch two weeks ago, just after her birthday. I bought her a gift, shipped from France, but it only arrived that afternoon. The following week I went to Brussels, and was going to drop it off on the way to the airport, but as usual I ran late so her book remained undelivered.

I had spoken with her on Friday morning, telling her I would deliver her present Monday—she died that very Friday.

There was a viewing last Saturday night, at an old church in Lisbon, only five hundred yards from her house, and the funeral departed from there the very next day—like Muslims, the Catholics of Southern Europe bury their dead quickly.

Lisbon is full of tourists, and I half-expected some lost soul hunting an airbnb to wander in during the eulogy. The priest told us he communed with both the faithful and the unbeliever—he explained he did not fear for those who did not love god, because he was certain god loved them.

In the cloister, the casket now lay closed. Outside in the searing heat, the yellow trams clattered up the narrow, cobblestoned street. The priest’s murmurs continued, and I watched my friend’s mother, her walking stick trembling, her eyes glazed.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I retrieved a terrible moment, a similar bullet of grief.

You can get used to the death of your parents, but you can never get used to the death of your child.

The man who told me that twenty years ago was someone I hardly knew; he blurted it out uninvited—perhaps he felt he could only share that terrible truth with a stranger, and I can still see his face as he spoke.

Now the prayers have been said and the relatives comforted, now the body has been burnt and other matters settled, it’s time to celebrate life.

Although I don’t see a pathway to the kingdom of heaven, any more than I see the seventy-two virgins of Islam or the fires of hell, I completely agree with a statement the priest repeated  to the assembly: death celebrates life.

Peter Wibaux is not a religious man, and must therefore seek a different catharsis—perhaps in tear-laced prose.

In my sadness, I was happy in church—I like the quiet and the reverence, the smell of the cool, musty air. I blocked out everything, the people and the prayers, and thought of my parents, of wandering around with my father in dark Spanish cathedrals, or sitting in a small Azorean church where sailors once prayed.

Last Friday, I lost one assiduous reader—she now sails a different ocean.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

 

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