It occurred to me recently that when one gets to a certain age one slowly forgoes many interesting subjects of conversation and begins to focus on the less interesting. Sadly, those things fall under the umbrella of ailments. That often leads to serious discussions about the hereafter, for which there is no single authority. Those who do believe in a single authority that threatens a fire-filled existence that is depicted as a series of blast furnaces tend to be really boring people who would trade all of the fun on earth for an eternity of cloud sharing with other goody-two-shoe types.
What I wonder about the most is what happens in the immediate aftermath of life, i.e., funerals, burials, cremations. These subjects seem to occupy the backburner. To many, it’s an uncomfortable subject to the one who brings it up—that person being the one asking if cremation hurts or what happens if you awake in a tight, dark place that bears little resemblance to life. Claustrophobia rules.
It’s at that moment, of course, that you remember that the Irish gave the recently buried a cord connecting to a little bell that the dead could pull to announce that the buried was still alive. Hence the saying, “Saved by the bell.”
I believe the buried alive at that point would begin a frantic search for that cord, all the while wishing that the coffin was a tad roomier. A light would be useful as well. And oxygen.
In any way one might choose to categorize people, there is a distinct sense of how death is handled. There are, after all, considerations that certain religions demand, with each religion being a construct of a broader culture.
And then there are the details of the reception: should it be potluck or catered? Should there be an open bar? How many will skip the burial to get to the reception hall and start drinking? Is there valet parking?
I remember being told that in Biblical times, Jews were to be buried before the next sundown. They should be bathed and wrapped in linen and buried in a grave, then topped with slate, upon which another body will be buried. It was the original concept behind Tupperware’s “Stackables.”
Times have changed, of course, and now we can be buried in a pine box and have our own column of dead people we wouldn’t mind spending eternity with. (Before you make any decisions about this arrangement, find out if they snore.)
Cremation and embalming are forbidden by Jewish law but the idea of being buried within the span of one day remains. There is no viewing of the body. Following the burial, the family is left to sit Shiva, which is a time of mourning that calls for all the mirrors to be covered in black linens, thereby lending a certain cheeriness to the event.
I know little about Hinduism, but I believe that cremation is common.
Embalming is a cruel practice that supplants one’s blood with formaldehyde, the very stuff biology-class frogs came in. Obviously, the blood-letting and the infusion of the chemical pretty much guarantee that you’ve lost the race.
A few years ago, I attended a party. The men were out in the garage, smoking cigars and swirling expensive Bordeaux. At some point, many of us pledged to each other that we wouldn’t let anybody embalm us. The idea was to make sure that our carcasses could be transported to the high country and be consumed by wildlife. That seemed reasonable. Embalming fluids maintain the state of the body, slowing its natural return to ashes and apparently tainting the flesh of said carcasses.
It’s a sad day when a magpie won’t pick the flesh off your bones.
What’s even sadder is if nobody comes to your funeral. In the Netherlands, such an occurrence is met with the government sending a poet, who reads a poem nobody hears. I’m guessing that haiku and limericks are probably okay.
For pure dramatic impact, there’s nothing better than being set adrift in a burning boat. Most cremations take place in an oven that can accommodate a human body and maintain a temperature of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s nowhere near the drama that the Vikings once offered.
While I’ve not determined the method for disposing of me, I am struggling with what has happened to parts of me that have been excised. So far, I’ve lost parts of me in Billings, Livingston, and Denver.
But it was the nurse during pre-op for gall bladder surgery who asked me if I’d like to keep the soon-to-be removed gland.
“No thanks,” I answered. “Just send it over to the funeral home. I’ve got a layaway plan there.”
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
Succotash was introduced as a stew to North American colonists in the 17th century by indigenous peoples. Composed of ingredients unknown in Europe at the time, it gradually became a standard meal in the cuisine of New England. Because of the relatively inexpensive and more readily available ingredients, the dish was popular during the Great Depression.
2 slices bacon
½ cup diced sweet onion
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 (9 ounce) package frozen Lima beans
1 (12 ounce) package frozen corn kernels
3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
¼ cup water
2 Tbs. salted butter
Salt and pepper
Saute the onion until crisp. Remove and set aside.
Add the onion and garlic to the bacon fat; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent.
Add the Lima beans, corn, tomatoes, and water. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring regularly, until vegetables are tender. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon as you stir the vegetables. Remove from heat.
Stir in butter; season with salt and pepper to taste. Crumble bacon over top and garnish with chopped herbs. Serve warm or at room temperature.