O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (Corinthians 15:55)

I have heard two stories about people dying while they were traveling. By the time I heard them the story tellers had blunted the sting of death and snatched victory away from a waiting grave.

A funeral pyre on Harishgandra Ghat, Varanasi----November 3, 2012.
Photographed from a rowboat in the Ganges River by Nancy D. Kelly

The first death was on a ship headed for Antarctica. The husband had a fatal heart attack when the ship was two days out. The wife, not surprisingly, was hysterical. She wanted the ship to return to port. That was impossible. Too many people had invested too much money. It was a high-end trip. The body had to be preserved until they got back. A practical-minded crew put it in the ships freezer. The problem was that the freezer was not all that roomy. The kitchen staff began to complain about not being able to get to the vegetables. Folding the body over like a letter in an envelope did the trick.

At first there was some concern about whether this ungainly solution would be more than the widow could bear. Far from it. Once the initial shock of her husbands death wore off she did, to everyone's surprise, a 180ยบ turn. A sullen companion before the untimely death of her husband, the widow became the life of the party, doing everything but dance on the captains table.

When the ship returned to port, she told the captain that this had been the best trip ever.

The second death was in Africa. A friend of mine, a doctor whom I have known for years, was an eyewitness. The place was a tree house, one of those elaborate hotels built into the tops of trees. Queen Elizabeth visited it with her husband in 1952. While she was there, her father died. People are fond of saying that she went up a princess and came down a queen.

You have to climb a ladder to enter. Once inside, apart from the railroad car feel of the place, it has all the amenities of an excellent hotel. Plus, there is a viewing platform to watch wild animals attracted to a salt lick close by. Each room is equipped with a buzzer. If, for example, a rhino comes to the salt lick in the middle of the night, your buzzer goes off. You may stay in bed or rush to the viewing platform.

Unless, of course, you happen to be like the hapless individual who went to bed one night and died in his sleep. No more buzzers for him. This man was grossly overweight. While he managed to pull himself up  into the hotel, it was virtually impossible to maneuver his dead weight (pun intended) back down. The owners hired a backhoe. They sawed a hole in the side of his room and neatly rolled his body into the waiting scoop of the backhoe.

The story doesn't end there. Unlike the widow of the first story, this widow loved her husband. She wanted to fly him back to American for a decent funeral.  The problem was the cost. To buy a coffin and load him onto the nearest plane was going to cost $10,000. She loved him, but she was not stupid. She ordered the body cremated and carried him home on her lap: total cost $125.

I recently returned from a trip to India. While in a rowboat on the Ganges, my wife and I happened to pass a funeral pyre. A body was being burned in plain sight on the riverbank as we glided past. That was the nearest I have come to death while traveling. 

Close enough.