Death in the House

Or, death in my house. We thought, at first, that the smell was that of a rouge mouse my cat had snagged. She’s 17, so that wasn’t much of a possibility. After two days of searching under every dresser, rug, cat box, closet, chest, bookcase and radiator we found zero mouses. Nada. We did find two cockroaches from my last attempt to de-bugafy my house. I figure that so far I’d paid about $1.15 per cockroach since the fogger cost me $10.35.

Our failure could only mean one thing. The 85 year-old man in our basement apartment was slowly making his presence, or lack of it, known through the wooden floor that separates us.

This would be no surprise. He’d talked to me about his death details a lot over the last month. He assured me that he wasn’t ill, except of his IBS, prostate, arthritis, some circulatory issue, and a degenerative muscle disease. This he explained as he showed me his will, the note-card on which he had all his executor details, the number of his lawyer, and the place that collects his mail. The later was his creative notification system to alarm me that he might be morte, ex-person, expired. The plan was that if he didn’t come in to pick up his post the mailbox would fill and the mail-shop would notify me to come empty it. Very clever that. Though the day he planned his death was on a Wednesday it was only Friday when the oder became so virulent that we could no longer stay in our house. Ironically death is its own notification system.

I was as prepared for his death as someone who studied death and dying twenty years ago in college can be. It was the smell and the bloating of his body that took me by surprise. All the mental scenarios I’d practiced in my mind weren’t pungent or as extreme as reality. This saddened me for my friend because he was always so tidy an tucked in; he was particularly self-sufficient and always proper like only men of the 40’s can genuinely be. His exit was very exposing, too improper for his taste. I glad he didn’t live to see it.

On their arrival the paramedics had to ask his race. This tiny white man was assumed to be a large black man when first encountered by them. That shocking grimace that we see portrayed on the TV show CSI doesn’t do justice to reality either. The young police officers tried to act as if they were in control, but clearly my neighbor was.

Detectives later arrived and interviewed me since I was the last person to see him alive. They asked me questions about things I didn’t know, like his date-of-birth. I only knew that he was 82. The police officer kept forgetting my name and needed to refer to his notes where he had written it down.

DC was great about the entire ordeal. They had it down to a dance. The police were kind and to-the-point. The Firefighters, though stunned at first were very commanding and sincere. The ambulance arrived with great aplomb. The city’s coroners made no waste of time and were in and out in about 15 minutes. There were more questions, more flashing lights, a growing gaggle of on-lookers, and I had obtained some obtuse stasis as the guy “who found him.” Then I was left alone with a pocket full of Distric business cards and the phone numbers offered by friends of businesses that clean up after such an ordeal (great job if you can get it). I turned off the light and headed back up stairs to put my son to bed.

What saddens me is not that my friend had planned his exit down to the detail, exiting on trash day so the trash wouldn’t stink up his house, paying his portion of our utilities bills the night before through my mail slot, and on, and on…what did was that he was alone. He was very sweet man who deserved to be with another human in such a moment.

I know death is always a singular act, but I wish he could have known the group of his friends who are about to show up for our street wake care as much as they do.

He DC was an institution. He’d lived on our street for 32 years. We’ll miss him.

2 Comments so far

  1. Mik (unregistered) on September 30th, 2006 @ 7:22 pm

    Greg – I am so sorry for your loss, my thoughts and prayers are with you, and your neighbourhood as you hopefully do not morn the loss, but celebrate the life of a neighbour.

  2. Bin_round (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2006 @ 11:15 am

    When I lived in a studio apt for about a year before I met my neighbor below me. He was an slight old man who lived simply and would come in and out of his place to do groceries, took the bus and to do volunteer work at the library. He was self-sufficient.

    I went away over the weekend and a few days exactly 4-5 years ago – it was around the beginning of October and found out that he has passed in his sleep. Luckily he had family in the area and they checked up on him periodically and those days while I was away, his sister couldn’t reach him so the bldg maintenance guy found him.

    He was about his 80’s too and he died alone.

    However, your story and this story is a few among many similar stories I’ve heard in passing. In the Post not long ago (someone mentioned here at DCmetblogs a year ago?), there was a story about an old guy they found in a house that was bought on the market. No one bothered to see the house and they found the guy’s remains in the bathroom where he had passed. Same story, old guy lived by himself, a fixture in the neighborhood and then no one saw him for a while, thinking he left town.

    Hopefully, you got to know him enough to know what his life was before he become “the guy who passed away downstairs”. I wish I knew my neighbor a little more.

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