Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera, 1988

 Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

Death of Dr. Juvenal Urbino

Death of Dr. Juvenal Urbino:

He was wearing his socks, and his shirt was without its starched collar; his elastic suspenders with the green stripes hung down from his waist. The mere idea of having to change for the funeral irritated him. Soon he stopped reading, placed one book on top of the other and began to rock very slowly in the wicker rocking chair, contemplating with regret the banana plants in the mire of the patio, the stripped mango, the flying ants that came after the rain, the ephemeral splendor of another afternoon that would never return. He had forgotten that he ever owned a parrot from Paramaribo whom he loved as if he were a human being, when suddenly he heard him say: "Royal parrot," His voice sounded close by, almost next to him, and he then saw him in the lowest branch of the mango tree.

"You scoundrel!" he shouted.

The parrot answered in an identical voice:

"You’re even more of a scoundrel, Doctor."

He continue to talk to him, keeping him in view while he put on his boots with great care so as not to frighten him and pulled his suspenders up over his arms and went down to the patio, which was full of mud, testing the ground with his stick so that he would not trip on the three steps of the terrace. The parrot did not move, and perched so close to the ground that Dr. Urbino held out his walking stick for him so that he could sit on the silver handle, as was his custom, but the parrot sidestepped and jumped to the next branch, a little higher up but easier to reach since the house ladder had been leaning against it even before the arrival of the fireman. Dr. Urbino calculated the height and thought that if he climbed two rungs he would be able to catch him. He stepped onto the first, singing a disarming, friendly song to distract the attention of the churlish bird, who repeated the words without the music but sidled still farther out on the branch. He climbed to the second rung without difficulty, holding on to the ladder with both hands, and the parrot began to repeat the entire song without moving from the spot. He climbed to the third rung and then the fourth, for he had miscalculated the height of the branch, and then he grasped the ladder with his left hand and tried to seize the parrot with his right. Digna Pardo, the old servant, who was coming to remind him that he would be late for the funeral, saw the back of a man standing on the ladder, and she would not have believed that he was who he was if it had not been for the green stripes on the elastic suspenders.

"Santisimo Sacramento!" she shrieked. "You’ll kill yourself!"

Dr. Urbino caught the parrot around the neck with a triumphant sigh: ca y est But he released him immediately because the ladder slipped from under his feet and for an instant he was suspended in air and then he realized that he had died without Communion, without time to repent of anything or to say goodbye to anyone, at seven minutes after four on Pentecost Sunday.

Fermina Daza was in the kitchen tasting the soup for supper when she heard Digna Pardo’s horrified shriek and the shouting of the servants and then of the entire neighborhood. She dropped the tasting spoon and tried her best to run despite the invincible weight of her age, screaming like a mad woman without knowing yet what had happened under the mango leaves, and her heart jumped inside her ribs when she saw her man lying on his back in the mud, dead to this life but still resisting death’s final blow for one last minute so that she would have time to come to him. He recognized her despite the uproar, through his tears of unrepeatable sorrow at dying without her, and he looked at her for the last and final time with eyes more luminous, more grief-stricken, more grateful than she had ever seen them in half a century of a shared life, and he managed to say to her with his last breath:

"Only God knows how much I loved you."

It was a memorable death, and not without reason.




Adrienne Nater, 2008

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