Friday, November 04, 2005

Traveling casket

It's been Funeral Central this week at church. I wonder if there's some covert group who meets to decide scissors/paper/rocks over who's turn it is next. Do Funeral Homes have quotas like patrol teams?

Anyway, I find the entire Funeral business suspect. Too blue, too clean, too big, too quiet, too medicated. When I was in high school, I wrote a term paper on American Funeral Practices. I had a lovely tour of a local Funeral Home one spring afternoon. My guide loved his work. He Vincent Price-ish LOVED his work. I followed him around, taking notes, and feeling increasingly odd. Complete tour of casket showroom, including clothes specially designed to be dead-body dress friendly. They were all backless. eek. A whole line like that- who knew?

Victoria Secret Funeral Line- Angels from the other realm..... hmm. It has possibilities.

When my Peter Lorre look-alike tour guide invited me into the embalming room, I was struck by the laboratory environment. A white porcelin table, one not unlike Dr. Frankenstein's in the old castle, sat in the middle of the room. wow. He picked up a clear plastic tube and started saying something about draining and then he tilted the table , and well, the next thing I knew I was having a close and personal conversation with the tile floor. Guess that setting isn't my cup of formaldehyde. Good to know those things about oneself at an early age.

Anyway, this week when I arrived at work, I was greeted by 3 navy-suited people. They shared the same bottle of hair dye, Erebus brown by Clairol. They were loitering around a very long hearse. Another navy clad person pulled up and the back door of the hearse opened. They pulled a shiny box out and took it inside. I waited, wanting to give them time to go. away. Then I went inside. Thinking it a logical location to have a casket in a church, I peeked into the sanctuary, but the holy space stood empty. I looked in the fellowship hall across from the sanctuary, but alas, it was also empty.

Now, realistically, there are only so many places for a casket to park inside the church, so not being able to find it began to work on my nerves a little. Did we have a runaway casket in our midst? Had they taken Mr. Smith for an early morning stroll before his service? What? Where?

I went into my office and started digging into my day. Concentration wasn't working for me. A few minutes later I decided to go on a search for the missing box, and I started looking in every room and even in the stairwells. No casket. Bathroom? Not mine- and I wasn't about to check the mens room thank you. Finally I walked past the parlor. There it sat, lid open- in wait. The support team stood within reach of the shiny walnut. I waved and went back to my office relieved to have located Mr. Smith.

A little while later, I walked down the parlor hallway and realized that the Parlor was now empty. No box. No people. no nuthin. I headed back to the sanctuary, but nope. Not there.
I asked the receptionist," Have you seen the casket?"
The retired volunteer answered, " What basket?"
i said, "Mr. Smith's Casket"
" What did they put his ashes in a basket for? That'll make a fine mess."
I tried speaking louder, more slowly." No, its not ashes, its a body today."
"Not too hot, weatherman says it will cool down tonight."
I gave up.

I went into the narthex to get a hymnal and noticed the columbarium door was ajar. The casket had been stuffed into the tiny room. The navy team had to lean into the brass placks that lined the walls. It was a tight fit. Did Mr. Smith mean to be cremated? Were they humoring him? Had he been indecisive when making that decision?

I looked at the big box and thought to myself, " You can't have it both ways, buddy." Then back to my office I went.

When I came back by to return the hymnal, Mr. Smith had found his way into the sanctuary. at last.

The elusive walnut box had put me on edge. Where, I wondered would it turn up next? Would Mr. Smith want to man the front desk? Have lunch out on the terrace? I half expected to see him glide by my office door at some point during the day. AS it turns out, though, his last field trip was out to the field, where he could settle in a little deeper. Be one with the dirt of the earth.

Maybe in his breathing life, Mr. Smith wanted to travel, or maybe he always did even up to his last moments with us? No telling. or maybe his Funeral team was feeling fidgety that day.

4 comments:

HeyJules said...

That was a wonderful look at a dark subject!

We went on a funeral home tour in High School for a class that spent time dealing with death and dying. I had the same reaction you had. I was just fine until the (also) Vencent-Priceish man grabbed the hose and the table. I didn't faint but I did have to leave the room.

Now, after watching several seasons of "Six Feet Under" I think I could probably make it through the tour...I just have no overwhelming desire to ever find out. You know. Until I have to.

Leslee said...

I've never had the "pleasure" of seeing the table, God has spared me! I've taken the tour of the casket room, but luckily they didn't show us their fall clothing line collection.

Mary Beth said...

Hilarious! I loved it.

My grandmother didn't want to be embalmed AT ALL. She made us promise not to let those people touch her AT ALL. She definitely had some issues!

So after she died, her body went to the funeral home as planned and just went into the big fridge.

The next day, we went down with her clothes and dressed her (and if you don't think THAT was a neat trick!) and did her hair and makeup. It was absolutely surreal and heartbreaking and beautiful. I'll never forget it. What a gift she gave us, out of her fear, to care for her one last time.

Kathryn said...

Not really sure if I ought to be saying lol when this is my first visit, - but this was excellent!
Iterestingly (if you can face the interest)here in the UK embalming is not the standard practice, and there is far more likelihood of a family being able to care for someone as mary beth described. But I chickend out for both my parents, I have to admit...