Entry 208: Stay-at-Home Dead

We had a bunny once. It followed our daughter Casey home from school one day, much like Mary’s lamb, only smaller, which is about the only good thing we could say about it.

pet-sematary-book-cover-01[1]Its name was Snowball, but it should have been Methuselah. The friggin’ rabbit lived forever. By the time it died, even Casey hated it.

My wife Barbara had the good sense to be away when it passed, so I was put in the unaccustomed role of being the sensitive parent. Usually I am the amusing parent or, frequently, the annoying parent, but for comfort or healing, Casey looks to Barbara.

So I wouldn’t ordinarily have been in charge of Snowball’s funeral, but circumstances had dictated that I step up to the plate. The first burial option I offered Casey, the “Hefty Bag/Dumpster” option, was not met with enthusiasm. I had to go to Plan B, the Shoe Box Burial, which would have been acceptable if I could only have found a shoe box, which I couldn’t, so I improvised. We would bury Snowball in a Hefty coffin.

We went behind our condo/townhouse, dug a hole, and laid the rabbit to rest in its shallow grave. I knew it didn’t have a Snowball in hell’s chance of staying there long, and, sure enough, either something dug up the corpse within a day, or our bunny is now on the popular AMC TV show The Hopping Dead.

Snowball passed its last pellet some years ago, but I am reminded of its untimely death (“Thank God, he finally died!”) by a number of news stories regarding a new trend: the home funeral.

A home funeral is similar to home schooling in that they both take place at home, and the main participant is not likely to have much of a social life.

One of the reasons people are having home funerals is to avoid the cost of a traditional burial, which can run as much as $6,500.00 or more not including the actual grave, which is essential if you don’t want to leave the coffin in the parking lot. But experts say home funerals are also better for the planet because, according to a Smithsonian article, there are no”bodies pumped full of carcinogenic chemicals, laid in metal coffins in concrete vaults under chemically fertilized lawns.” Jeez, when you put it that way, the poor guy probably would have preferred to stay alive!

While home funerals may be cheaper, they are not as simple as, say, burying a rabbit. For one thing, it’s difficult to find a big enough shoe box. Then you have to determine the laws in your state, as some localities frown upon amateur interments as being a potential source of pollution, disease and (this is the legal term) “ickiness.”

The website crossings.net offers a helpful step-by-step guide for when your loved one passes away:

1. DO NOTHING–Do not feel that now that the last breath has been drawn, that you need to jump up and call someone…Be at peace in the silence. Or grieve alone while you can. Nothing needs to be done for an hour or so. If the eyes and mouth are open at this point, this would be a good time to close them.

This is good advice indeed, as you might be reluctant to do Steps 3 and 4 with your eyes open.

2. CALL SUPPORT–After an hour has passed, call the attending nurse to come and pronounce the death, and call your support to come and assist with the care of the body. Call someone to pick up dry ice – 40 lbs for an average size adult.

I’m guessing you’d have to line up this support in advance. How would that phone call start? “Hey, John, remember that time I helped you move your couch from 84th Street to 90th Street …?”

And what if death occurs at, say, two in the morning? I mean, is there a website you can visit to search out the location of the nearest 24-hour dry ice store? On the plus side, if you’re Jewish, once the body is gone, you can repurpose the dry ice to preserve all the food people bring at shiva calls.

3. MOUTH AND EYES–Swab out the mouth with vinegar, disinfecting mouthwash or mouth swabs. Tie the chin so that the mouth is closed with a scarf or tie, under the chin and around the head. Keep this in place until you are finished with the washing and dressing.toothache[1]

Great. Now I have a mental image of a dead body looking like a cartoon of someone with a toothache. And a thought here: perhaps you shouldn’t use a scarf or tie you intend to ever wear again.

Also, if I have to swab out the corpse’s mouth, why did you have me close the mouth in Step 1? If I have to open and close its mouth a few more times, I will have no choice but to fire up my long-latent ventriloquist skills.

4. GET STARTED–Keep in mind that rigor mortis will set in between 2-4 hours after the death. It is easier to wash and dress the body before this occurs, although it is still possible to do so afterwards…With an absorbent pad under the pelvis, gently push on the bladder so that any liquid that is in the urethra can escape. Throughout this and any other handling of the body, every part of it must be supported, so two or more people are necessary. One person should put on gloves and gently close the vagina and the rectum with cotton balls.

Okay, well first of all, I now have knowledge of grandpa I could have lived without. And before we get to “Step 4: Washing,” “Step 5: Dressing” and “Step 6: Room Preparation,” let me just say that I would not be getting to any of those steps. I’m sorry. I don’t care how much I loved the deceased; there comes a time when it’s better for everyone concerned to summon a professional. As Barbara can attest, I’m really no good with do-it-yourself projects, particularly plumbing.

Proponents of home funerals say that such a memorial is more comforting to those who survive the deceased. Many even recommend that you build the coffin yourself for the full experience. Even if I could get past the corpse prep, getting the body into the unintentionally trapezoidal coffin I’d have assembled would be a problem. And besides, to get the full experience, wouldn’t you have to get into the coffin?

Of course, nobody much mentions the two necessities of a home funeral: ownership of the land in which to bury your loved one and the absolute certainty that the deceased had no “unfinished business” which might cause him or her to wander around your property emitting moaning sounds for eternity.

And then I have this question: when you go to sell your house, exactly how do you talk about this little backyard installation in the real estate listing? Or do you have to–EWWW!–take grandpa with you when you move?

burger-king-funeral_small[1]As for me, I’d prefer the type of funeral the late David Kline received. Kline died at the age of 88, despite being a frequent patron of his local Burger King. So, as a tribute, the entire funeral procession went through the Drive-Thru where each mourner was given a burger. And, best of all, Kline got one, too, placed atop his coffin at the cemetery. The manager of the Burger King is quoted as saying “It’s nice to know he was a loyal customer up until the end – the very end.”

Ah, yes. But didn’t he want fries with that?

See you soon.

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6 Responses to Entry 208: Stay-at-Home Dead

  1. Janice says:

    I don’t know what to say except I agree with you, too gross, torch them, preferably outside the home and witnesses.

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