Backstage at the Crematorium

May 7, 2010 | 0 comments

The Week, “The best of the U.S. and international media,” has an excerpt from a new book, Curtains by Tom Jokinen, in the May 7 issue. It’s in “The last word” section, and they titled the piece Backstage at the crematorium.

Jokinen writes, “I have come on a mission – to understand the rituals of death by working as a funeral-home trainee. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has said, humans are the only creatures who know they’re going to die, and even worse, they know they know it, and it’s not something they can “unknow.” All any of us can do is distract ourselves, briefly, in the same way that we might mask the smell of burnt food by spraying the kitchen with Lysol. My goal in becoming a trainee is to figure out if the rituals that the funeral industry helps us perform are Lysol, or if, in fact, the way we handle death – with caskets and trinkets and stone markers – is our way of facing up, finally, to the smell.”

The excerpt includes a behind the scenes tour of life a funeral home, including taking a peek inside a retort as a cremation takes place, seeing what happens to the cremated remains when they come out of the retort, and helping dress the deceased, including one particular little old lady. He shares an interesting insight into what happens when people with jaundice are embalmed – they turn green. If the person is being put on display, then mortician’s makeup is used like paint. Jokinen describes trying to dress the corpse and having some troubles.

“Her goopy left hand is hard to hang onto, and as a result she slides more than rolls, to the edge of the gurney, where gravity’s waiting. I hug tighter, and now we’re face to green face. This must be embarrassing for her, that’s all I can think. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry she’s green, and half-naked, and in the arms of a hapless stranger when she’d rather be alive and home watching Wheel of Fortune.”

This sounds like an interesting read! Perhaps someone at Da Capo Press will send a copy my way for an online book review.

A Good Goodbye