A dream to forget

Richard Ek is a retired journalism professor and frequent CN&R contributor.

The other day I may have died for a few seconds, but then again maybe my mind just played a trick on me.

Right after World War II ended, I joined the stampede of veterans headed for college. I needed a part-time job to supplement my GI Bill allowance and considered myself lucky to land a four-month stint at a mortuary. There were three funeral homes in town, and they rotated the coroner’s cases (non-natural deaths) on a four-month basis. Another young man and I slept in single beds with a telephone on a table between us. If the phone rang at night, it meant only one thing: we had to arise, dress, and drive to a death scene to pick up one or more bodies in a panel truck. Some nights nothing happened. Other nights were busy.

While I missed combat in the navy, I saw enough tragedy and death—the victims of murders, accidents, suicides, etc.—in those few mortuary months to last my lifetime. On weekend days I escorted bereaved visitors into different rooms containing the coffins of loved ones and then quietly withdrew. Once I made the serious error of showing an older couple the wrong deceased, which distressed them.

Well, the other day I fell asleep in my rocking chair and dreamed I heard the funeral chapel organ playing a devotional hymn. Suddenly I was back at the mortuary escorting faceless people to an expensive metal coffin. When I reached it, I saw the Grim Reaper standing at the other end with his scythe. Then I looked down and with horror saw myself as the deceased. My face and hair were cosmetically touched up in the usual manner, and I was dressed in the suit I wore to my wedding 52 years ago.

Then a chasm opened in the floor and swallowed the coffin as I struggled to avoid slipping to the same fate. I awoke in panic, but the startling illusion persisted as I continued to hear the music for the few moments it took for me to become oriented. Then I realized my wife was playing the organ in another room. Her playing had apparently triggered the association with a 60-year-old memory from where it lay dormant in my subconscious mind.

I walked out onto the front porch and looked up at the beautiful blue sky, heard birds, and became aware of the gentle summer breeze. I said a word of thanks to St. Peter for letting me live another day. Then I asked him to please allow me to stay aboveground a while longer. After all, I’m only 78.