Life is a Drop of Oil in the Fry Pan.
I used to volunteer with the San Francisco Zen Hospice Program at Laguna Honda, the county hospital.
People who die at a county hospital have no one.
Some died quickly and others were there for months.
Most of the patients were at peace. Maybe because they were dying and had let go of all attachments, or maybe because life hadn’t been good to them.
For some, these were the best days of their lives—the only time they were cared for and loved.
The hospice area was one large open ward. When someone approached death, they were moved to one of the two private rooms, which were reserved for the dying.
We took turns sitting with the person. We kept a vigil.
When a person died, we said a few words and performed a Buddhist ceremony. A flower was placed on the person’s chest. We sat for hours with the body, chanting, praying or in silence.
It was rare to be there when someone died. It happened to me once in well over a year’s time.
They asked me to take the body down to the morgue which was in the basement in an adjacent building, a distance away.
It was considered an honor.
At 10 at night, I pushed a gurney with a dead body on it, down the dark and quiet hallways.
Once inside the morgue, I pulled out a large drawer from a wall of drawers. I lifted the frail body, holding the head up so it wouldn’t drop and snap the neck, and lowered him into the steel tray.
The body was cold and clammy with condensation from the body’s drop in temperature. I tied a name tag to the big toe on his right foot, said a prayer, and closed the drawer.
When I locked the door and walked into the dark corridor, I heard my teacher’s voice,
Author: Tom Marino
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Catherine Monkman