Glass Coffins, Remains to be Seen

“Worms, vermin, everything that swarms in the dark depths of burial vaults and tombs, is a source of life.  There is an undeniable correlation between corruption and life.”

–Mary Shelley, introduction to Frankenstein

Your Mortician likes to keep a tidy little list of things she would like done with her corpse in the event of her tragic untimely demise.  I highly recommend that everyone keep such a list!  First off, it is an excellent way to get those mortality acceptance juices flowing.  Visualize yourself: being cremated, being buried, being left on a mountain for birds, being sunk to the bottom of the ocean.  You’ll hit upon something that feels just right.  You won’t be around to experience it of course, but it’s a good thing to have thought about.  In addition, it makes a great gift for your next of kin who will have to take care of you come this aforementioned tragic untimely demise.  Leave it on the fridge for easy access, so you can cross out and add  ideas as they come to you.

St Bernadette of Lourdes

One idea currently topping my to-do-with-corpse list is to have my body placed in a glass coffin.  Not embalmed and meticulously preserved in the bloom of youth, mind you.  But just dumped in there and left to decompose for all the world to see.  For the first week or so I’d be an elegant maiden with alabaster skin and rosy lips.  Much like Snow White silently waiting for her Prince.  But alas, before my Prince could arrive, things would take a turn for the ROT.

The artist here is someone named Deskridge who contributes to online 3D picture communities with names like "For the Love of Elves" and "Den of the Troll."


Slowly but surely I would decompose.  There would be liquids, purge, skin slippage, bloating, all the good stuff.  I think it would be best to house the glass coffin in a small hovel on the outskirts of town, so people could make pilgrimages to see the rotting girl.  I wonder if anyone would come?  Yes, I believe they would. People would be drawn to my glass coffin out of morbid curiosity, which is exactly how I’d want them.  I’d like them to take pictures and buy souvenirs. Perhaps a wall calender with pictures of my progress, each month a different stage of decay to match the changing of the seasons.

The Buddhists would surely approve, as they practice a meditation called the Nine Cemeteries.

“Apprentice monks are instructed to meditate on a series of decomposing bodies in the charnel ground, starting with a body ‘swollen and blue and festering,’ progressing to one ‘being eaten by . . . different kinds of worms,’ and moving on to a skeleton, ‘without flesh and blood, held together by the tendons.’ The monks were told to keep meditating until they were calm and a smile appeared on their faces.”

 

Carlo Natale, Cemetery of Staglieno - Genoa, Italy

 

Maybe my body would show people that decomposition can be beautiful.  One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen was during my time at Mortuary Science School (which I affectionately called Deth Skool).   She was a corpse sent to us to embalm by the the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office. Due to a paperwork mix-up, she was given  to the deth skool with documents saying she had died a month before.  She had done no such thing.  She had died over a YEAR before and had sat in a white body bag amongst the lonely unclaimed dead, slowly morphing into this wondrous thing.  Even refrigerated storage and a casing of thick plastic could not stop death’s alchemy.

Left to your imagination, you would think she was like this because she emerged from the primordial goo at the beginning of time.  She was, at once, hideously grotesque and beautiful. She was Mother Earth created in a vast ecosystem terrarium.  She was moist and dry, wet and barren, sticky and mummified.  Mold and slime in colors, vivid colors, from blackest black to taupe to orange to green to brown.  She was part human, part wild earth.  It seemed she could not really be dead because she was still so alive, a mass of growth and bacteria and plant-life.

Metaphorical Blueberries.

She had no right to be so bloody magnificent.  To be a religious experience.

Her eyes had shrunk into her head and her mouth twisted into a silent scream, begging to be let out of her horrid white death- bag.  Her hands and arms were brown and shriveled like a relic from BCE- era Egypt.  Her abdomen was a mass of black and orange bloat.  Crazed patches of thick mold hardened like protective carapaces all down her neck and torso.

Now we were supposed to practice embalming on her.  Learn something.  But it felt blasphemous.  Five students in our ridiculous Smurf blue bio-hazard outfits, chipping away at the mold that covered her as if we ever could- of ever should- try to make this human again.  Trying to restore order to something so necessarily, brilliantly chaotic.  We should have put her in a glass coffin.  But alas, we simply put her back in her white plastic and returned her to her cold tomb.


 Viva la Muerte!
Your Mortician
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  • mara

    I will come visit every Wednesday. I like your metaphorical blueberries.

    • YourMortician

      I think that is beautiful. But I want you to know I forgive you if you move on. You need to eat, even on Wednesday nights.

  • http://twitter.com/AngelineGragzin Angeline Gragasin

    A beautiful meditation on The Ecstasy of Decay. What was the final outcome of the attempted embalming? Did you succeed, if there even is such a thing? Or was it a disaster unimaginable?

    • YourMortician

      The outcome was an entire lab of trying to clean nails that were mummified, trying to wash skin that was made of mold, and trying to raise veins and arteries that had long since decomposed. Although we should have left well enough alone, I’d actually say it was a pretty resounding victory for nature.

  • http://twitter.com/mostmodernist M

    I didn’t know this was gonna be a sad tale! Poor Mother Earth!

  • http://www.willcwhite.com Will C. White

    Um, can we say ‘stars aligning’, cause this just came up on the bestofwikipedia twitter feed not two days ago:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incorruptibility

    • YourMortician

      I love incorruptibility! That’s a whole ‘nother blog entry. But I’ve gotta slow my roll and expand my repertoire ‘cuz all I want to write about is DECAY. To be returned to.

  • Chris

    this was the story you told me, that night on the court yard

    • YourMortician

      Yes, Meryl.

  • labureauchief

    Feel like there’s a joke about bureaucracy in here somewhere.

  • Anonymous

    I stumbled upon your post in the strangest of ways.  It’s good to see beauty everywhere..

  • PinAngel

    I would love to visit someone in all their rotting glory. I saw glass coffins once, in the Museum of Funeral History in Houston, TX. I think it would be wonderful to watch someone putrify and fully rot. I also want to visit the Body Farm. I think that would be amazing.

  • Susan Brinkley

    Love. This.

  • Anonymous

    …but I have no need for a list. Long ago, I was at some event where someone took it upon himself to tell me of all the horrible pranks that happen in anatomy labs. As soon as he told the story about the med student who cut off a cadaver’s penis, went to a not-quite-nearby washroom, stood at a urinal holding it as though it were his own, waited for an unsuspecting victim to come in to the washroom, shook it a few times, muttered “damn thing doesn’t work”, threw it in the urinal, and walked away; well right that moment I knew that I wanted to donate my body to an anatomy lab. (Though it fills me with such regret that there are all these uptight notions of “respect” for the dead, and much more strictly enforced rules against that sort of thing now–I find such a prohibition downright disrespectful of my wishes to be good for a little extra shock, horror, and a few grotesque laughs after I’m dead.)

  • Josef

    I love your essays. This one in particular. The idea of slowly drifting back from where I came is relaxing. Even at 20 i still envision myself going back to the ground naturally. So pure so perfect. Thanks for your essays and thank you for your YouTube channel.