Monday, October 30, 2006

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.

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