TWO STORIES ABOUT
1 In the time it takes you to read this, nine Canadians will die. Here's what happens to most of them. But don't read it if you're squeamish
TINY BEADS OF SWEAT stood out on the upper lip of the hospital's senior resident as he made out the death certificate. It was hot and stuffy in the ward and the presence of your death seemed to make the air even heavier. On the form's blocked out squares the doctor printed your name in quick sprawling capitals. Then his pen ran dry and he switched to a red bail-point. Given name: Roger. Sex: Male. Age: 52. Time of death: 11.50 p.m., June 23, 1966. Immediate cause of death: Myocardial infarct—coronary thrombosis. Morbid Conditions: Arteriosclerosis with . . .
If life was a lonely business for you, Roger, death was even more so. A bachelor all your life, you had no wife or grownup sons to comfort you. There was only your brother George, who dutifully and briefly visited you in hospital every few days. And at the final moment you were surrounded only by the strangers in white who, in your going, tried to ease your pain.
Actually, it was exactly at 1 1.48 that your heart stopped and you ceased to breathe. But the body does not surrender that easily. Some of the cells in your body will go on living for several hours. The most highly developed systems will go first. Within a few minutes after your death the cells of your central nervous system, waiting blindly for the messages that would never come, collapsed. Your red blood cells have already started to break down. And as they drain down, obeying gravity, they form livid splotches under the skin of your back. But another six or seven hours will pass before the cells of the tissue of your voluntary muscles will die.
Your heart is contracted and turning a pale opaque yellow. In the last agony of your death, the arteries collapsed with one massive and final convulsive thrust to push all the blood into the veins and capillaries of your circulatory system. Your skin is pale, almost luminous. Your eyes in death have become fixed in a stare.
Immediately after the last spasm, every muscle in your body relaxed. And with the tension drained from your face, you suddenly looked almost youthful. But this lasted only a few moments. Now. as rigor mortis sets in, your features begin to contort into the grimace of the death mask. It began inside with the involuntary muscles, the heart and arteries. And after it has gripped your eyes, neck and face, the stiffening will spread through the muscles of your chest, trunk and limbs.
Also in those first few moments of death, your body temperature
rose suddenly. The still-active metabolism produced heat but death robbed you of the circulation’s built-in cooling system. It didn't last long. From now on you will lose heat at the rate of about five degrees Fahrenheit an hour. And because your body is 60 percent fluid, dehydration quickly follows. Bacterial organisms from your intestine have already begun to penetrate the blood. Within half an hour, that strange unmistakable odor, the putrefaction of the flesh, will be given off by the dying cellular tissues in your body.
And your soul, Roger? Your soul has gone wherever souls go. What happens next is governed by the Christian ethic that now your soul has left your dead body, your flesh is of no use to anyone.
THE DOCTOR HAS ARRIVED at question nine on the death certificate, Was there an autopsy? He looks contemplatively across the hall to your brother, who has just arrived. George is talking to the young priest who gave you the last rites. The doctor lets them talk for a few more minutes, then he walks over and introduces himself. And your brother asks the questions the living always ask.
“Did he . . . was there much pain?"
“We did everything we could."
The doctor lets your brother ask a few more questions then decides the direct approach is the best.
“We would like to have permission to perform an autopsy on your brother’s body."
“An autopsy . . . what's that?"
“It’s an examination of the internal organs. We would like to find if our diagnosis and treatment were correct. And we would like to find what effect the disease had on his organs . . . It’s the sort of thing that helps us with our treatment of other patients,” the doctor explains.
This is all true. It is also true that autopsies are an essential part of an intern’s training. And with 17 interns in the hospital, the resident has to obtain as many bodies as he can.
“What about the undertaker?" asks George.
“He is familiar with our procedure and afterward will collect your brother’s body at the morgue."
“Yes, I must arrange for an undertaker." “About the autopsy . . .?” Oh yes . . . yes. I suppose it’s all right." “Fine, will you sign here please?"
continued on page 32
MEANING OF DEATH: ADAMS
continued from page 22
You will help students learn, Roger
Meanwhile the head nurse has filled out two small labels, with your name, age, and time of death. Your body and face have been covered with a sheet. She ties one label over the sheet and around your neck. She ties the other around the big toe of your left foot. As the hospital attendant wheels you to the elevator only your feet protrude. Traditionally, the dead are wheeled feet first; there is no practical reason. The attendant throws the manual switch on the elevator so that it won't stop at any other floors, and takes you straight down to the morgue in the basement.
IT IS 9 A.M. on Friday morning, Roger. The porcelain slab that you are lying on in the Pathology Department is chipped and ancient, like most of the equipment in the room. And once again you are surrounded by the soft-spoken strangers in white. There is the pathologist who will direct the autopsy, the slender young intern who will perform the dissection, the morgue technician and his two assistants.
A six-by-four-inch wooden block is thrust under your shoulder blades so that your head falls back. The intern gives a gentle nod to begin. With a wooden-handled knife and using easy sawing motions, the technician makes a deep diagonal cut from your right armpit to a midpoint just below your chest. He makes another cut from the left armpit, forming a large V. The intern stands behind your head and starts to cut away the tough membrane that attaches the underside of your skin to your ribs. As he does so, the technician begins to cut down, from the meeting of the V. toward your groin.
There’s a lot of fluid in your abdominal cavity, so he takes a soup ladle and begins to spoon the yellow fluid into a gallon-size plastic jug that he lodges between your thighs. The intern is meanwhile cutting out your sternum, the breastbone, where it is joined to the ribs with that tough cartilage. He rolls the V-shaped flap of skin from your chest over your face so that he can get at your throat. In a few minutes he has cut out your thyroid and parathyroid glands. They are weighed and dropped into little bottles of 10 percent formalin solution. The thymus is next, it's the little gland that plays a mysterious role in your body’s resistance to infection.
The technician is feeding the 26 feet of your intestine into a chipped enamel basin, deftly cutting away the membrane that held it all together in your abdomen in such efficient, compact folds. There has been no spurting of blood because of course there is no pressure from your heart. But a lot of blood has collected in your body cavity. The soup ladle is used again.
Then both men cut away the arteries and large veins leading to the legs and arms. The windpipe is severed. And then out comes your whole viscera, in block: heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, liver, the aorta. It's all placed in another enormous enamel bowl and the intern takes it over to a large double sink where he will
do his dissecting. Using a blind-ended pair of scissors, he snips away the tissue surrounding your organs, lays them bare, slices them open and arranges them neatly on a board. They will he shown tomorrow morning to the hospital’s interns. And all the while little snippets are dropped into the formalin-filled bottles: a piece of nerve, a section of vein, some muscle. They will be kept “in perpetuity.” Slides will be made from a minute slice of every organ in your body and examined under a microscope. Technicians will discover what effect the drugs you took had upon your body. In various organs they may even find diseases and abnormalities that were never diagnosed.
The intern now opens up your aorta, the largest artery in your body. It is fat and greasy on the outside. Inside it's like a rusty old pipe. Attached to the walls are lots of little flaky plaques, some yellow and hard, others rusty brown. This is arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries . . . the disease that killed you. Roger. One of those plaques, called a thrombus, broke off and went sailing through your circulatory system. The intern found it. When he worked his w'ay into your heart, there it was: plugging the entrance to the coronary artery. You’re a classic case. Roger. They decide to slice that section of your heart out. "fix” it. put it under glass, and hang it on the wall in the medical library. Generations of medical students will sec exactly how you died.
On the slab, Roger, the technician is slicing open your scalp, right across the crown of your head, just behind the ears. He then tugs the front half over your face. The other half is rolled back. With an electric saw that has a scimitar-shaped blade he makes a slotted cut around the top of your skull. The bone is extremely hard and the technician blows away the powder and little wisps of blue smoke that curl over the blade. He only saws three quarters of the way
MEANING OF DEATH: ADAMS continued
“I like being with people,” says the funeral-home assistant
So THERE YOU ARE. ROGER. Not milch left of you now. A disembowelled cadaver lying chilled under a shroud in a dank and silent hospital morgue. The only sign of the living here is a faint rumble of city traffic. And this is where the undertaker's assistant comes to pick you up at 1 1.45.
He is a slight, short, dark young man. Very polite. He has already picked up your death certificate from the hospital's record office. Then he took the form to the Pathology Department for the autopsy report. The intern who did the autopsy was still there. He was slicing your liver in sections. His gloves were soiled with blood and body fluid. He didn't bother to take them off. He asked the undertaker’s assistant for a pen. And as he filled out the blank lines, he smeared the certificate. When the intern finished, he tossed the pen and certificate down on the table. The assistant, without saying anything, tore a paper towel from a rack and wiped the certificate and pen clean. Then he put the pen back in his coat pocket, picked up the form and silently left.
He went down the corridor to the morgue and opened the heavy green steel door. As he pauses for a moment in the doorway while his eyes adjust to the dimness, the refrigerated air billows like smoke into the stuffy corridor. After checking the tag around your big toe, he wheels you into the hallway. There a morgue attendant takes you by the feet, the assistant takes you by the shoulders and they swing you in one easy motion onto the loading stretcher. I he assistant slips the morgue attendant 50 cents for his help. Then he tucks a triplefolded, slightly soiled red blanket around you and wheels you out into the loading bay where the big black Chrysler station wagon is waiting. The stretcher is locked into tracks and the assistant carefully closes the silver-grey curtains across the back window' with a tiny metal chain.
through the bone, then uses a chromium-plated hammer and chisel. Where the skull has split, he inserts a long-bladed knife to separate the dura, the tough membrane that protects the brain, from the roof of the skull. A couple of more taps with the hammer. Suddenly the skull cap is bouncing around on the floor and everyone turns and looks at the technician. He is embarrassed. “That doesn't often happen.” he mutters apologetically. The dura is cut away and the brain lifted out. It too goes into a “fixing” solution. When it has hardened they will slice it and study the sections under the microscope.
A few minutes later the technician is putting what is left of you back together. He replaces the skull cap and quickly sutures the scalp. Rolled-up newspapers are laid inside your body to fill the emptiness left by your removed viscera. The sternum is placed on top. One of the assistants uses a fast over-and-under baseball stitch to do up the Y incision. A white shroud goes over you and is tied around the neck. Then you are wheeled dow n the corridor to the freezer.
Cautiously, he eases the car out of the parking lot and drives to the funeral home. He is a methodical young man. He has never questioned why he is in the business. "I like being with people,” he says by way of explanation. It was the first job he had ever had after high school and he stuck with it. He has held his em-
baí mer's licence for five years. Before that he worked out his two-year apprenticeship in a funeral home where he slaved 60 to 80 hours a week for $50. Now' he makes $125 for a 40-hour week and is paid overtime. “I'm in heaven now,” he says, unaware of the irony that's in it.
It's a smooth luxurious ride you're
having, Roger. The station wagon passes a school and the street is suddenly full of laughing children let out from their classes. The Chrysler slowly glides past the throngs of milling young bodies—a shiny black container of death in the midst of life.
AT THE FUNERAL HOME the director is already waiting in what he likes to call the “preparation room.” It's small, 18 by 12. The floor and three quarters of the way up the walls are
MEANING OF DEATH: ADAMS continued
They are gentle, respectful—to them you are a human being
all in white tile. The upper part of the walls and the ceiling arc in a pale institutional green. The room is pleasantly cool. Taking up most of the space is the large white-enamelled embalming tabic. Both of its ends tilt toward the centre at about 15 degrees, (¿utters run around the edge and empty into a bucket that hangs under I he tabic. On one side there is an embalming machine, an aspirator and a couple of deep sinks. On the other wall there is a glass-doored cabinet containing bottles of embalming fluid.
As the assistant wheels you in, the director is slipping into a white smock which he fastens together at the back of his neck with a surgical clamp. He is a tall, lean man in his early 40s. His face is lined and tanned. His hair is grey and silver, very distinguished. He would be an elegant man if it were not for a certain professional unctuousness. In his conversation he often uses the word sincere. He has been in the business 25 years and has been in on the funerals of some 5,000 people. He is the kind of man who works on fund-raising committees. He lunches two or three times a week with his bank manager and lawyer. He is a church elder, and belongs to the Kiwanis and Rotarians.
And now as he moves around the embalming table it is with the same practiced ease of a big-money pool player. He is very relaxed, not a motion is wasted. Beside him his assistant looks tight and awkward. The funeral director believes implicitly in what he is doing. He is going to prepare you. Roger, to meet your funeral with . . . dignity.
And as the assistant unwraps the sheet from around your head there’s no doubt, Roger, that you need all the help you can get. Your face has completely collapsed around the zigomatic arch of your cheekbones. Your eyes, still open, have w'ith dehydration started to flatten, and the whites turn brown. Your lips are pulled back over your false teeth.
But these men treat you gently, Roger, and with deference. You are always referred to as, “the remains of this gentleman.” There are no jokes made about you. To them, you are still very much a human being.
The director rests your neck in a rubber block that has six different neck shapes cut into each face of its cube form. The assistant bathes your body w'ith a diluted spray of carbolic acid. Out come the “baseball”
stitches. The sternum, looking for all the w'orld like a section of spare ribs, is lifted out. Out come the pieces of rolled-up newspapers.
Meanwhile the director is working on your face. He takes two Opticon Contour Eye Caps and smears the interior of their hemisphere shapes with Kalip Stay Cream. The caps are made of light aluminum so they can be molded to shape. Each cap has a series of tiny holes punched from the inside so that there is a graterlike surface on the outside. The director places the eyecaps over your eyeballs and gently pulls the eyelid down and over. The eyelid is held in place by the tiny serrations of the eyecap. Your
false teeth are taken out and cleaned with Perma-Spray, a liquid phenol carbolic acid. Your lower jaw is gently manipulated to relieve rigor mortis. Your teeth are replaced. And then, using a curved needle and thread, the director pierces the flesh of the inside of your lower jaw just in front of the root of the tongue. Drawing the thread through, up and under the upper lip and into the right nostril, he passes the needle through the septum and into the left nostril, then down into the mouth again. He cuts the thread, takes the two ends and ties the jaws together, making the knot inside the mouth, being careful to see that the mouth has the right "bite.” Cotton wool is laid over your teeth to fill out the lips more, and more Kalip Stay Cream is applied to the inside of the lips to keep them closed. With your eyes and mouth shut, he very gently begins to shave off the beard you grew in the last few hours of your life.
The two men work quietly. The director gives the occasional suggestion. In a quiet way he is very much the boss—“My boys have to do it my way.”
The assistant finds your femoral arteries and makes a tiny incision in each, then slips the metal nozzle ends of a Y-tube into the slits and ties a ligature around the artery and tube. The end of the Y-tubc is hooked up to the hose of the embalming machine, which starts to pump embalming fluid into your collapsed arteries at six pounds pressure per square inch, about the same pumping pressure your heart used to deliver.
In that first half gallon that is going into your legs, Roger, are four ounces of Permaflow V-2 Co-Injection, four ounces of Metasyn Arterial Chemical; the rest is tepid water. As these formaldehyde-based chemicals course through your arteries and out into your capillaries they solidify the soluble albumen found in the tissues of your body. The chemicals also kill any organisms and enzymes still alive in your flesh. Embalming may not be forever, but it is an empirical process; they can only do it to you once.
Because of your autopsy, Roger, they are performing a “6-point injection.” After your legs, yoLir arms, and then the carotid arteries in your head will be injected.
After 10 minutes the assistant ties off the femoral arteries. With two hook-shaped instruments, his nose two inches away from the exposed flesh of your armpit, he peels away the sheath of membrane surrounding the artery.
This time, with the Y-injcctor carrying the embalming fluid into your arms, the assistant adds some Icterine dye to give some fleshtone to the undersurface of your skin which is a yellowy grey. The dye shows itself in splotches first, then the splotches spread and join. The veins on the backs of your hands are raised. When the assistant massages your hands with Kalon Cream and the fingers swell they become startlingly lifelike.
The director undoes the scalp suture, pulls the scalp forward and removes the roof of the skull. He reaches into the empty head and ties off the cerebral arteries. Then he pulls
continued on page 36
MEANING OF DEATH: ADAMS continued
Now you are ready—but nobody comes
the scalp back again. And as the two elbow - shaped tubes iced embalming fluid into the carotids on each side of your neck, your cheeks start to fill out and take on a flush. The vein on the side of your forehead pulses out with a ghostly suddenness. Roger, once again you have a human face.
It is a strange sight. There you lie on the table: your body opened from your throat to your groin, with all your internal organs removed, your separated rib cage lies exposed like the beached hull of an ancient sailing ship, the top half of your skull sits on a board over the sink. And yet despite this, you have these legs, arms, hands and face of a man who is perhaps only asleep.
Just as the assistant is tying off the carotid arteries the phone rings. He has to leave and pick up the body of a woman who has died in her own home.
The director, alone now, seems to move with even more ease. There's no doubt about it, Roger, you're in the hands of a professional. Your funeral director has . . . class.
With a small electric drill he bores two holes on either side of your skull, just behind the ears. Then two more in the detached skull cap. With fine silver wire he clamps the skull together again. Your separated scalp is carefully smoothed back, and he uses tiny “glover's" stitches to sew it together.
He uses the aspirator to pump out the large quantity of blood and embalming fluid in the open well of your body. Into the empty body cavity he sprinkles five scoops of “Viscerock — The Chemical Sponge,” a drying and hardening compound that acts as a deodorant and preservative and can absorb up to 144 percent of its own weight.
Next, large wads of industrial cotton are packed under your rihs. More cotton is packed into the abdominal cavity. More drying compound is sprinkled. That V-shaped flap of skin is rolled down for the last time. The over-and-under baseball stitch works its way up your abdomen and chest. Over the stitches the director sprays liquid colodium which forms a synthetic skin. As the colodium drys, he lays a thin stretch of cotton wool over it. Apparently mourners have a habit of putting their hands on the chest of the dead in the general area of the heart. It wouldn't do for them to feel that ridge of stitching under your shirt.
Back to your face now, Roger. The director fills a large hypodermic with De-Ce-Co Feature Builder, a liquid that, as soon as it comes into contact with the embalming fluid already in your body, turns into a malleable plastic.
There's a little dry sound like a pin being punched through stiff paper as the director inserts the needle behind the hairline on the right side of your temple. He squeezes the handle of the hypo and the Feature Builder bunches up under the skin of the temple. With the fingertips of his left hand, he molds it into shape, trying to maintain the natural inward curve of
your temple. Then he does the other side of your forehead. There’s another dry little sound and he fills out the loose sagging skin under your eyes. Then the upper lip is filled so that it will protrude and make you look younger. A little under the empty skin of the jowl . . . that’s enough now ... no need to overdo it.
Now a quick shampoo, Roger, some hair oil, and then the hair is carefully brushed down over that empty skull. Once again your body is washed down and then padded dry with the sheet, which is finally wrapped around your loins like a giant diaper. Now your clothes, undershirt, white shirt, silver tie. Then the pants and jacket of your best dark suit. And finally, a pair of black socks.
A little foundation cream is gently stroked into your face and then carefully wiped off. A touch of the eyebrow pencil. Just enough rouge to bring some color to your lips. One last brushing of the hair—to get the parting straight. The director steps back with a grunt of satisfaction. It has taken exactly three hours and 45 minutes, a little longer than the autopsy.
IT IS 7.30 ON Friday evening. You arc in your casket now, Roger, in the “lying-in" room. Your brother has decided on a $668.72 funeral and your casket is of polished oakwood. It shines rich and dark. It is exactly six feet three inches long. 30 inches wide, and 24 inches deep. Your head rests deeply in a white satin pillow. Your hands lie crossed on your chest, palms down. Just the right length of your white cuffs show, revealing those dark-red horsehead cuff links you were so fond of.
Two electric candles are placed in front of the casket just above a cushioned ledge where people can kneel and pray. The soft light from the candles throws a rich and delicate design of shadows over the crenellated satin interior of the casket lid that is hinged open above you. On a stand a few feet away a visitors' book lies open at the first page. The funeral is set for Monday morning 9 a.m. In the next two days, anyone who wants to pay their respects to you can visit you at the funeral home between nine in the morning and 10 at night.
But . . . nobody comes, Roger.
At 8.30 on Monday morning, when they start to trickle in, that visitors’ book is still blank and open at that first page. First is your landlady. After all, she rented the upstairs flat to you for the past 12 years. Then your brother and his wile with their son and daughter-in-law. Your sister has flown up from Detroit and brought her two teenage daughters. There are a couple of chaps from the Legion you occasionally drank beer with. The last mourner to arrive was the accounts - department manager from the firm where you worked all those years as a bookkeeper.
“What should I say to the family?" worriedly asked the manager.
“You don't have to say anything."
continued on page 38
MEANING OF DEATH: ADAMS continued
The altar boys wear running shoes
replied the director. “It’s your presence that is important.”
OUTSIDE, A WEAK SUN shines fitfully behind the clouds that clutter the sky. And already there is a spattering of rain.
The pallbearers carry the coffin to the $18,000 funeral coach, a 1965 Cadillac with a special body built by Superior in Michigan. It has a 340 horsepower engine that can deliver 120 miles per hour, but it rarely does more than 35.
A swirling gust of wind blows a newspaper along the sidewalk and wraps it around the leg of a pallbearer. He stumbles, then regains his balance. Moving softly, quietly giving directions, the men from the funeral home have everything under control. The funeral director leads the cortege in his big black four-door Buick. The Requiem Mass is going to be held in your church.
Inside the vestibule of the church, the portly priest irritatedly demands the five altar boys get themselves organized. It's not a rich neighborhood. The boys need haircuts. They have fair Slavic faces. Running shoes peek out from under their gowns. The boy carrying the cross has a candle taper between his teeth. The priest just has time to take it out as the pallbearers bring you in and set your casket on a low, folding carriage with velvet curtain around its base. The priest sprinkles holy water over the casket and blesses you, Roger. You are wheeled down to the altar. Behind the priest and the altar boys come the mourners.
“God have mercy . . .” intones the priest in a deep bass.
“God have mercy ...” comes the high echoing answer of the altar boys.
The funeral director and his men are already having coffee in a restaurant across the street, swapping stories about priests, ministers, and
other funeral directors. They know in exactly 30 minutes the priest will begin the Our Father and at those words they will start toward the altar, ready once more to unobtrusively take charge of the funeral.
THE FUNERAL PROCESSION enters through the open high black iron gates of the cemetery. The morning drizzle shrouds the broad, gently sloping hillside in vague wreaths of mist.
The cars stop while the funeral director goes inside to the cemetery office to check with the official keeper of the graves.
“Plot No. 4156. You see that little hill just down there, to the left of the trees? It’s just behind there.”
The funeral procession starts up again. The windshield wipers of the hearse moan back and forth like a weary prayer. Then they finally click to a stop. Through the rain-blurred window the grass looks green and lush. The fresh earth from the newly dug grave is dark and rich.
The priest is in the lead car with the funeral director. He is a spry little man. Officially, he is in retirement, but he spends most of his time burying the dead. “I’m keeping up the work.” he says in a soft Irish accent. "I live just over there in that blue-and-white house outside the gates.” He gets two dollars for every burial. He is moving fast so as to be able to sprinkle holy water over the coffin as it is removed from the hearse. And the funeral director has to move fast to keep the big black umbrella over the priest’s head.
The pallbearers carry the coffin over strips of brown coconut matting that have been laid over the wet turf. The mourners follow. The women find the footing difficult and prefer to walk on the grass. They walk awkwardly, bowlegged, trying not to let their heels sink into the ground. The
continued on pape 41
MEANING OF DEATH: ADAMS
rain glistens on the black umbrellas.
Half in the grave is a grey-painted shell. It costs $15. To prevent the embarrassment of having the coffin tumble into the grave, safety belts hold the shell securely. The pallbearers lay the coffin on two rods placed across the open top of the shell. Droplets of rain gather on the dark, polished surface of the casket which gleams dully in the soft light.
The mourners group at one end. The priest, a small man in black, stands at the other. Immediately behind him is the tall and elegant figure of the funeral director, still holding the umbrella. And then the priest begins.
"1 am the resurrection and the life . . ."
Your two friends from the Legion are standing ramrod stiff. George and his son have their heads bowed. Your landlady dabs at her eyes. 1 he faces of your sister's two daughters are drained of color. They look afraid. Their mother gazes steadfastly off into the rain.
The rain is coming down harder now'. It moves as a curtain in an unfolding skirtlike movement across the cemetery. The mourners shuffle their feet as they feci the dampness creeping into the backs of their calves. The priest is coming to the end now'.
“Memento hominis, quia pulvis est . . . Remember, man. that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."
He steps forward and sprinkles earth over the coffin. The two funeral assistants step forward and remove the support bars from beneath the coffin, letting the full weight rest on two broad canvas straps. Then they lean back, unlock the straps, and lower the coffin into the shell. Moving smoothly, they place the cover of the shell over the top of the coffin and the funeral director uses a shorthandled screwdriver to quickly screw down the six holding screws. Everyone watches his hands. A large silver ring on his little finger makes hypnotic flashing movements.
Suddenly, the priest and the men from the funeral home are walking to their cars. And for the first time the mourners arc left undirected. They stand rooted, waiting for some movement to release them. Then one of the men starts walking toward his car. The rest follow. Only your sister looks back.
As soon as the last car has lelt. two workmen in yellow slickers appear out of the rain. They release the safety straps that lower the shell into the grave. A small mechanical scoop fills the opening.
For $150 you have “perpetual rights" to the grave. Roger. It cost another $50 to be dug. And then there was a $15 penalty for using a wooden shell. In two years the lid ol the shell will collapse, leaving a dip in the ground that will have to be filled and returfed. In another two years the lid of the casket will cave in. leaving another depression to be filled. By that time, moisture, fungus, and insects will have laid your skeleton bare. But your bones. Roger . . . your bones will be there lor a long time. ★