The tip off was the pile of mail. Then the car. When did it move last? A week ago? Two?
A well-meaning neighbor came with a key. A stench that has taken weeks to tame. My friend was the nearest next of kin. 800 miles away. She drove across the mountains to the plains to sort through bags tagged safe by the biohazard cleanup crew. The coroner said there would be no identification of the body.
“I walked through her entire life, with gloves on,” she said.
She brought a box home containing her relative’s paperwork. Her will. Her bills. The box has to stay outside. She has to build a box for the box. The smell of decay had permeated the pages within.
Her relative’s death occurred one day in the middle of summer. A death that eventually, got noticed. The coroner doesn’t know exactly when.
The relative died before the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Before the two mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. The relative died in her home. A private death. One caused, most likely, by the illnesses that often accompany advanced age. She was older than all of the shooting victims killed in the last 10 days.
In that sense, she was lucky. She died alone. But she had at least considered her death. She had directives: Do not get rid of my books. No services.
My friend is grieving. Any death of a loved one causes an unsettling feeling. Their last moments are wondered about. Were they afraid? Were they ready? What did we last talk about?
These questions, of course, lead to other questions.
Will I be alone, too? Will I make it to old age? Will my children?
Or will some terrorist with easy access to a gun and sense of entitlement snuff them out in their prime? At a festival. In a bar. In their house of worship. In their school.
Will anyone with power give a damn? Or will there just be a collective shrug? A turning of the page before the next forced pause when we consider the whereabouts of our loved ones and count our blessings.
When will the deaths be enough?