Mannequin Monday – If people don’t die right, they haunt

Our mannequin, our framework, will perhaps remain unclothed this week. It’s all about not dying right, about absence. Haunting.

Quotes from Wynton Marsalis and Eddie Glaude.

And a story of mine, inspired by the quotes.

What I’m Reading This Week

I came across this quote from Wynton Marsalis this week. “So many of us have lost loved ones to Covid-19 and didn’t have that last chance to say goodbye in-person. Your dearly departed is forced to come to you from the spirit world and sit with you. Their presence allows you to grieve slowly, to mourn completely. So many people say they just can’t sleep. It is a profound, holistic pain that can only be assuaged in a realm that is deeper than dreams.”

The quote refers to his new musical work, The Democrarcy! Suite.

In the same vein, I heard an impactful comment from cable news commentator Eddie Glaude. Glaude was speaking of the effects of the COVID explosion on many of us when he said, “If people don’t die right, they haunt.” He is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Also the Chair of the Center for African American Studies and the Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton. His quote inspired my own writing this week.

The 400,000-plus deaths from COVID are compounded by the knowledge that most, if not all, of those 400,000 died alone, apart from family, friends, loved ones. They died alone.

What I’m Writing This Week

Here’s what I’m writing, what I’m feeling, this week.

A Whisper of Breath

If people don’t die right, they haunt.

The comment jumped from the TV,  framed by a jumble of unheard words. It hit Elizabeth McLane between the eyes.

Yes. That’s it.

She ran her hands through her hair. Turned away from the TV. Let the words fill  her head. You’re haunting me, Jack. I get it now. You didn’t die right. 

The cable news anchor dismissed the commentator and broke for a commercial. Elizabeth grabbed the remote and turned the TV off. 

She stepped up to the patio window, laced her fingers over her head.  Stared out the window at a cloud-filled sky. Temps in the low fifties, chilly for Los Angeles. Those words seeped into the empty space in her heart.

If people don’t die right, they haunt. You didn’t die right, Jack. It’s a wrong thing, dying alone on a dark night, no family at the bedside. Damn COVID. Damn lockdowns. Damn no visitors allowed. Jack, I was not there to hold your hand. To say a proper goodbye. To weep at your last moment. A nurse called to say you passed.

Her arms fell to her side. Passing. What the fuck. Why call it a passing? It’s not like the Jewish Passover. The plague, the angel of death, passed over the Jews. Saved them. No one saved you, Jack. You didn’t pass. You left. You died.

Elizabeth moved closer to the slider window, stared out at the trees beyond her patio. She crossed her arms on her chest. Gripped her sides tightly.

It’s your absence that haunts me.

She spoke softly to herself.  I see it now. You’re haunting me. Not like a character in a Stephen King novel. It’s your absence that haunts me. Pure absence. For six weeks now I’ve been trying to feel you. To sense you around me. To feel your spirit. To listen for your voice in my head.

They say people can feel a loved one’s aura. They glimpse a hummingbird. Hear the scree of a hawk. Spot a red carnation. Or a whiff of fragrance.

I’ve been waiting. I feel nothing of you. Only your absence. Only the hole in my heart, the empty space in our home.

Elizabeth opened the slider and walked to the edge of the patio. She rubbed her arms against the afternoon chill. 

Some die like a red hot poker dipped in cold water. A hiss, and they’re gone. Others go more like a dry leaf dropping into a quiet stream. They hit the water gently, then drift away. Out of sight.

You, Jack, I think you would have gone out like a whisper of breath against someone’s cheek.

Yet…there was no one there to hear your whisper. No one to see your leaf fall, your fire go out. No one.

 You started life with someone. When you gulped your first breath, your mom and dad were there. A doctor, a nurse. You were not born alone. But you died alone.

Did you know, this is my last breath? This is the moment? Or did it surprise you? 

Elizabeth felt tears cascade down her face. The sun slipped out from behind a cloud. And a whisper of air touched her cheek.


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