“She is gone,” was the phrase I heard from those present. They uttered it with the assurance of an apodictic truth. And the hearers sent forth the look of intelligence of those who understand. But I did not understand, and to this day I fail to understand what was happening. That she was “gone” could be interpreted literally. Minutes before, there was, on that bed, a blue-eyed querulous former schoolteacher who had known hardships in the Depression, and had loved and married, and had suffered from a harrowing disease. Minutes later, there was, in her place, an unsentient lump of decomposing organic matter. A mannequin. Who brought about this incredible switch? Right under our noses! Look behind the curtains or under the bed: you will find nothing. Where is the person? Vanished. Disappeared. Gone. If it is true that God engineered the miraculuous substitution, then our Maker is the supreme prestidigitator and death the unsurpassed magic trick. More amazing even than the fabled rope trick of the Indian fakirs. The number-one sleight of hand for all times.
As to the meaning of the puzzling phrase, I thought I had some inkling of it. Being an immigrant, I began to appreciate when it means to be “gone.” To be gone, to have “departed”—terms equally applicable to death and emigration—is essentially to be absent; suppressed as a corporeal presence from the perceptual sphere of others, friend as well as foe. It is to be thought of with melancholy by our loved ones; to be evoked first with painful yearning but later with seething emotions that cool and grow dim, like embers in the midst of ashes. It is to be named first eagerly, then mournfully or solemnly, and at length not at all. To be gone is to be absent, and the absent cannot be seen, except in effigy. But an effigy is an unchanging mask, whereas the reality of the features behind changes, and the features that were before are slowly dissolved in remembrance. For the absent invariably dissolve: theirs is but a ghostly presence, light as air, which vanishes if one draws near, emitting a phosphorescence before being overtaken by the dark unknown.”
— There is a World Elsewhere, 1998, F. Gonzalez-Crussi