“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.