Saturday, November 27, 2010

Notes from Bizarroland 2

My mom and I went to the funeral home yesterday morning to "make arrangements" for my dad's cremation. That was what my mom said the funeral director told her the appointment was for: "to make arrangements." I had wondered what it meant. Ma already told him over the phone that we wanted a basic cremation, no service, no urn. (At some point we'll decide where to scatter the ashes.) Besides paying, what "arrangements" needed to be made?

There was a bit more, but not much. A few forms to verify and sign; some minor details to confirm. Then the funeral director asked if we had any more questions. Ma and I looked at each other, she shrugged, she asked, "I don't know, Matthew, is there anything you wanted to ask?" 

I paused and began to simultaneously shrug and shake my head "no." But a number of questions demonstrating an idle curiosity about the mortician's craft had shot through my mind. 

"When you got the body from the hospital, where were they keeping it? Was it a morgue? What does the morgue look like?"

"Do you keep the body refrigerated at the funeral home until the time of cremation? Or since it's going to be burned anyhow, do you not bother? Let it begin to decompose?"

"What about all the smoke? Is there any environmental regulations?"

"If we wanted to, could we see the body now? Not that I do want to, but...if I wanted to...?"

I decided it was better to just leave than to ask these questions.

Dad and I had once had a conversation about a sleazy funeral director somewhere in New York that tried to guilt-trip him...I think it wasn't pertaining to a relative of his, but a friend and work associate - but I really can't be sure now. I think it was something about how the undertaker tried to convince my dad and the other person he was with that the deceased deserved better than a pine box, how the deceased should be honored with something more noble or elegant or dignified - and definitely a shitload more expensive - than an unadorned wooden box. My dad had related the story so that we could share a feeling of contempt about the inappropriate behavior of the undertaker, and so we could share a meditation on the grotesque humor of a hard sell taking place in an awkward moment where stale grief met tedious bureaucracy. 

I was glad that my mother and I were not subject to any hard-sell techniques, even if we inevitably had to spend a few absurd moments acquiescing to a compulsory bureaucracy.

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