Of all the horrendous scenes from Hurricane Katrina that Karen and I have watched, the single image that has sent us reeling is of a middle aged daughter dragging the corpse of her father on an inflatable mattress; he is tightly, lovingly wrapped in white sheets.
The dutiful daughter, eyes downcast, explains to the newscaster: “Daddy, he wuz on the oxygen in order to breathe, but then the oxygen, it plum ran out, and…” The daughter shrugs and shakes her head in despair. Trembling from either cold or emotion, it’s hard to tell which, she moves on with incredible dignity, drags her father away from the pitiless gaze of the camera, a tiny figure in an immense watery landscape that looks, my gosh, like Bangladesh.
For the last year of Ariel’s ZT”L life, he was a tethered to oxygen cannisters in one form or another. Severel times a night, Karen and I would take turns, climb out of bed, pad downstairs, slip into Ariel’s room and check the level and flow of the oxygen.
“He’s still breathing,” we’d assure one another and go back to a troubled sleep.
Now, two years after Ariel’s death, I still wake in the middle of the night and tell myself that I have to check his oxygen, and then abruptly I realize that no, I don’t have to, for he is no longer breathing. And I feel, in the words of a friend who also lost a child “like this dead thing.”
Sometimes, I just lie back in bed, hold my breath as long as I can, until my lungs are searing and feel like they are going to explode, but of course they won’t and of course I need the oxygen so I gulp air, gulp oxygen, gulp life, and miss Ariel so very much that I have no idea how I’m going to get through another day.
I wonder if that dutiful daughter is still pulling her father’s corpse through the water; in a way, I guess she’ll always be hauling him along, for we are all carrying someone, aren’t we?