Ode To Odette
Yesterday a woman died on the beach. Her name was Odette. She was a 65 year old French Canadian. She had a heart attack and died in her pink and gray bathing suit on the floor of the little 16' travel trailer she shared with her companion, Jean Paul. Kelly, a nurse, performed CPR for 30 minutes while Jean Paul raced to Miguel Hidalgo to fetch a doctor. Odette had been dead since she fell, and all Kelly's efforts brought no response. When he returned, Jean Paul threw himself down on his knees, embracing Odette's body, sobbing and speaking to her.
We all stand around outside staring at each other in disbelief and repeat the same old cliche. What a shock. It's so sudden. She's gone. It could happen to anybody. And those words are all true. We just don't know their meaning, their true content, until it happens. And even then, how close must the shadow pass to make itself real to us? Just skimming the ground nearby, felling a total stranger, has profound impact.
The doctor tells us the protocol for the necessary paperwork, and I translate for Jean Paul. We need to go to the doctor's office. Brian offers to drive, and I offer to go along to translate. We ride in silence for awhile, and then I attempt to elicit some conversation with Jean Paul. It turns out he and Odette don't live together at home, but are travel partners. Were.
"We had so many plans," he repeats several times.
And, "She was so happy here."
The clinic is a simple cement building, and Jean Paul paces nervously while the doctor retreats into her office to type out a statement.
I feel such compassion for this poor man. I had six weeks to prepare for Steve's death. He had no time at all.
I ask him about the past couple of days. I had heard that she had some symptoms previously, but I want him to tell me the story himself. I remember that there is some comfort in telling the story over and over, repeating the shocking unbelievable facts as if to convince oneself that these events have actually happened. He recounts the details. She had never had a history of heart trouble, but she had symptoms two days ago. He took her to the hospital, where they gave her oxygen, and her symptoms disappeared. The doctors ran tests, told her that her heart was fine. They came back to the beach, and today symptoms recurred, but they thought it must just be heartburn. And, then, suddenly, she was dead.
Jean Paul scrabbles in his bag to show me the document they gave him at the hospital, some scribbled account I cannot decipher. It is as if he is offering me evidence that she was OK: How can Odette be dead?
The noise of the typewriter ceases, and the doctor comes out of her office and hands Jean Paul the requisite paperwork. We walk out into the sultry dusk and get into the van, return to the beach. I sit behind Jean Paul in the car, my hand on his arm, wishing to convey some comfort, if only of human touch. But I know that there is really nothing that breaks through the veil of icy shock. He asks me to go with him the next day to complete the documentation. He says he must phone his insurance company. I ask him if Odette has children, and he says, "Four."
"So will you call them?" I ask. Yes, he agrees, he must do that.
Back at the travel trailer, Kelly and her mother Gail have washed Odette's body and dressed her. Jean Paul requests that her body be moved to her bed; he even qualifies in which direction her head should face.
While Jean Paul drives back into the village with Brian to make his phone calls, I stagger into Churpa's camp and fall into the embrace of a circle of young women. We stand holding each other, and I whisper, "I can't even imagine how he must feel." Someone answers, "I think you can."
I retreat to my camper to meditate. But all through my meditation the image haunts me of this man sitting alone all night in a tiny trailer with the body of his beloved. It is too much a contrast to the house full of loving companions that surrounded me and Churpa at Steve's wake.
Revived by my hour of meditation, I return to the travel trailer, but it is dark and nobody answers my tentative call.
The next morning I find that officials came about midnight and insisted that Odette's body be removed. Jean Paul has gone with the body to make arrangements to fly Odette home to Canada. Fortunately, his consulate takes care of everything for him. As it turns out, I never see him again before he flies back to Montreal.
Did Odette die content with her life, at peace? Jean Paul told me several times that night, "She didn't want to suffer." It was a good death
What is a life well lived, I wonder? It's a question that needs answering daily. We can't wait until our dying days to say, "Hold on here, give me a few more minutes, hours, days, years. I meant to do it different."
Steve's death has given me a startling and abrupt opportunity to assess my own life, as I look back on our years together. There are some deep regrets, remorse-- the "wish I'dda's". I am an emotional and spiritual accountant, weighing the plus and negative of our relationship, wee-wawing on the scales that never balance. I seek for a peaceful tone as I view what is, ultimately, my own karma. We each take care of our own. Steve--his, me--mine.
And what of the love? The love deeper than personality and daily entanglements and habits? There's a love so basic and profound as to be the ground of all my links with others. Is not that love, that fundamental underlying connection of our shared humanity, what the Dalai Lama keeps emphasizing, the glue that holds the world together? The energy between the molecules that creates the spin of attractions? The gravity, as it were, that prevents our disintegration out into deep space?
Continued with Departure