Let the dead bury their dead

I know it’s Monday and I should be toiling away at my job, thinking about bringing home a large rasher of bacon, double-checking the kids’ Halloween costumes, deciding what to do about the brand new fake fingernails I bit off in a weekend fit of pique.

For some reason I am perseverating on the subject of death, especially the death of a child. I watched an interesting film last year about how Americans handle the dead bodies of their loved ones. I, of course, had never questioned how we do things until I saw this film and realized that we are one of the only cultures that whisks away our corpses, tags ’em, drains ’em, pumps ’em full of some other liquid, gives ’em a bad hairdo, an even worse makeup job, dresses them in their least favorite outfit, sticks them in an incredibly expensive and garish casket and dumps ’em in the ground really really quickly. In short, we turn our dead over to complete strangers, nearly instantaneously, and by the time we lay them to rest, still firmly in the denial phase, they bear no resemblance to the one we’ve known and loved. We give ourselves no real opportunity to grieve, to come to terms, to “give up” the body and take hold of the spirit.

Other cultures allow the deceased to take up residence in the living room. Propped up, perhaps, in their favorite chair, dressed in their normal clothes. Friends, colleagues, family are able to hang around, to view the body, to hold the hand, stroke the hair, feel the pain and the loss. I understand that after a few days, as the cheeks and eyes have become sunken and there is no sense of life whatsoever, those of us left behind are able to make peace with the fact that this body IS NOT our little boy or girl or father or mother or sister or brother. This is, in fact, a shell. An earthly vessel. We have time to grieve the loss, to let go of the body and embrace the spirit.

Of course, the funeral business, just like the wedding business or any of the other “ritual” businesses that are so ingrained in American culture, doesn’t want us to consider anything besides the norm. Five thousand dollar caskets are expected because, after all, we loved Uncle Joe and want only the best for him. What a fucking scam.

Note to anyone who knows and loves me……When I die, please choose a very simple pine casket, perhaps lightly distressed just for effect, dress me in my flannel pajamas, put my hair in pigtails. Give people a few days to come by to look at me, hold my hand, tell me how they’ve loved me, how they’ve hated me, whatever they’d like to say.

When everyone has had enough time to comprehend that the body is not me, that I’m waltzing with Jesus, or dirty dancing with Satan, or whatever people do in the afterlife, dump me in a hole that you’ve all dug together in the back yard. That would make me happy.

3 thoughts on “Let the dead bury their dead

  1. Well now it’s Tuesday and Halloween and thanks to you, Marie, I have been thinking about undertakers since your post. I have decided to really scare the kids this year, and go Trick-or-Treating with them as a hospital undertaker. I’m putting a coat and tie on, and will be taking along a false top stretcher (the body lies underneath, while the top looks like an empty stretcher), which is the vehicle of choice in hospitals around America these days.

    The undertakers I have seen entering to pick up the products of American medical science, usually have had a wry smile on their faces, too. That’ll be the hard part of my costume to get down just right. But it is essential that I do so.

    Trick-or-Treat! I’m going with two, 10 year old witches. Beware! Don’t let us spook you. Have your insurance forms filled out before we arrive.

  2. Tony! I wish I could’ve seen you last night. I especially love the part about the insurance forms. You, covered in blood and embalming fluid, with a clipboard at the ready to obtain the necessary “information.” “Yes, would you like the moire tafetta or the simple cotton lining?” Not only would you have to master the wry smile, you’d have to come up the “oh, no gilt accents for mom….poor woman” look as well.

    Next year let’s trick or treat together with all the kids. You continue your role as undertaker. I’ll be the florist, carrying around the retarded carnation/rose/orchid sculptures with predominantly-placed price tags (the cost will depend on the significance of the love relationship with the deceased…my tags will make that clear). It’ll be a blast!

  3. I’d like to Trick or Treat with all our kids together next time, Marie. As it was, this year I never got time to put my undertaker costume on. I would have been outstaged, anyway, by the 2 year old pink dinosaur that came along last minute.

    I was flabbergasted, when after going to pick up the second witch, some more relatives of the witch arrived with the kid sister of Barney on board. They said, Why don’t you all go together?” So I replied, ‘Sure. come along”. But then they just let the 2 year old dino walk forward, and Lo and Behold!, no adult relative followed! So there I was with two 10 year old witches, and an unknown 2 year old pink dinosaur, and a bundle of extra clothing stacked in my arms, plus a very eager dog monster on the leash straining at the reins! I never worked so hard on Halloween before in my life, even though the vicious dog got ditched from the start.

    The pinko dino was so cute though. She actually toddled up to about 25 houses, and got more candy than she weighed! Her 2 foot long pink tail was great as it wiggled behind her, door to door! My young witch looked after her in a most responsible manner, but got angry at her companion witch, who only wanted to capture more cookies and cream. So right before all Hellfire began to spark forth, the pink dinosaur squad demobilized. And later the 2 witches went their separate ways, with mine taking along Wolfen (the dog) in Western drag. All in all, a good Halloween with a good take when she finally got done.

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