(This is an old entry from 2009 I found in Drafts. I’m cleaning up my posts and pushing anything I think is fine as is to Publish. At the time I was writing about the death of a character and drawing on my own minuscule experience.)
Most of my memories with legs are a 360 degree sensory experience–including a once dreamt perfect loaf of bread. But I can’t remember what death smells like. I’ve had several close and one imagined anxiety-based brush in real life, two visceral dreams where I died (and then woke up), and twice have been at the side of someone hours after their death. Personal accounts and literature almost always include the smell of death, including voided bowels; open, broken (sometimes putrefying) flesh; the smell of chemicals that may have led to death; leftover odors from the scene (cookies now burning in the oven, cold smoke from a housefire). In murder mysteries it’s often sweet.
But those are causal or atmospheric or simply the remains. The smell of death, like death, is null or absence. While that’s frightening it may also be a safety net–I’m sensitive to odors, remember them, and assign associations that are often hard to break. Whenever I smell juniper, I think of cat pee. Salt air, I think of peace. Rose oil, I think of sex. Blood, I think of iron shavings and salt water and a chemistry lab. Thankfully, the smell of death, whatever it is, flies under the radar.