Memento Mori

She packed the car the night before, laying a plastic bag with panettones on the passenger seat, for a two-hour drive home first thing in the morning. It probably hadn’t been long since her last visit, yet who knows the joy she felt in seeing her family, in getting away from the city now and then. Besides, Christmas was always a special occasion and it wouldn’t have been different this time. Maybe she expected to meet relatives she hadn’t seen in a while who would also rejoice in her company, and they would’ve exchanged gifts and laughs. Maybe it would have been exactly like the last time and much could have depended on that. But she didn’t leave in the morning and nobody could reach her, so they contacted the building superintendent who went to check on her, but she didn’t answer the door either. Afraid that she might be in need of help, he asked her sister’s permission to break into the apartment.

They say we die the way we live, in a noble attempt that falls short of making sense of death, especially when it is sudden. She died alone in her sleep at 44 and obviously caught everyone by surprise. Dismayed-looking neighbors who had known her for sixteen years gathered in front of her door when I arrived home that afternoon, moments before they brought out the coffin. I stood there watching them load it into the car, trying to reconcile myself with reality. During the seven years we were neighbors, I never got to know more than her name and the smile with which she always greeted me, which was more than enough to give me pause at the thought of her death: how unpredictable yet seemingly inevitable. Perhaps this is the correlation between living and dying we ought to bear in mind, and our comfort is in giving up the need for a meaning, for there is none that stands the test of time.