Saturday, April 17, 2010

Death. Is It Funny Or Sad?

Is it appropriate to write a blog post about death? I hope so. So far, I've been spared from painful losses, so my personal experience on this topic is limited. I can't decide if this is an advantage or a disadvantage, as far as writing is concerned. Since I am inexperienced, I allow myself to joke about death. Though, it is very likely I'm an insensitive idiot.

The first time I was confronted with death was when my grandpa died. I was eight at the time. His passing didn't affect me that much since we weren't really close, but it was hard to see my mom grieving. I went to his funeral even though my mom had given me the option to stay at home. I was curious, and I wanted to impress her. She was moved by my participation, and mistakenly thought I was a sensitive and mature child.

I remember sitting there during the funeral observing my mom's and relatives' sad faces and wondering if grandpa could see us from heaven, and if he could see that I wasn't crying. The casket was shiny and big, and very quiet. I remember wanting to ask my mom if she was sure grandpa was really inside it, and if she was really sure that he was dead. What if he was actually sleeping?! When they lowered the casket down in the ground, I remember feeling conflicted with thoughts of my grandpa waking up from his sleep and calling for help. Nobody would hear him from down there!

My second memorable experience with death came eleven years later. It happened during my CNA training. We went on a field trip to a funeral home. "You're lucky," the funeral director told us and winked. "We have an open casket funeral this afternoon." Upon this statement, he lead us to a dimly lit room with chandeliers glittering in the ceiling and rows of chairs facing the same direction. In front of the chairs, surrounded by flower arrangements, was a casket with an elderly woman. Her face was made up with pink cheeks and red lips. And she was wearing eyeglasses. My common sense told me she was dead, but in a different place, I would have believed she was napping.

After this viewing, the funeral director showed us the embalming room. He proceeded to tell us about one time when he was so busy that he had nine "stiffs" at the same time. They had to be stored on top of cabinets until their funeral dates. Since he didn't have time to go home and eat that night, his wife had brought him a pic-nick dinner. The faces on the others in my group were serious, probably in shock, but I was panicking, trying not to burst in to laughter. It didn't help matters much that the funeral director had a left eye that was stuck looking sideways.

Now on to a recent date. How did I think about writing a blog post and sharing my experiences with death? Last Friday, I had my first cadaver lab. It wasn't at all as weird and creepy as it might sound. As I am in college studying to become a physical therapist assistant, this was a extraordinary opportunity to learn about the human body. Not humorous really, okay maybe a little. It was hard to go home and make our usual Friday roast beef subs and not think about what our muscles look like after we die, but this is probably a normal reaction.

Obviously, the atmosphere and the interior of a cadaver lab is vastly different form that of a funeral home. It has high ceilings, white walls, concrete floors, and fully illuminated by industrial lights. In preparation for the smell, I had rubbed Vicks inside my nose which I quickly regretted when I felt it burn every time I took a breath. But the pain was forgotten once I entered the lab and I saw the metal tables with bodies. Two hours of studying the human body flew by. I left floating on clouds. It had been such a fascinating experience.

To tie up this rather incoherent blog post, I have one final reflection to share. One of the bodies in the cadaver lab was a woman that had died from leukemia. My teacher inquired if anyone knew a sigh of this disease. I was the only one who knew. A giant spleen! I know this because my mom has leukemia. Eventually, death will affect us all. Even me!


  1. When I was a child I was scared to death (ha) of dying because I suspected a great deal of pain was involved. Children don't think of aging or wasting diseases, they think of accidents with fire, cars, drowning, stabbing etc. It's only when you are an adult you understand death is the end of all the pain. I think the way to not fear death is to live a good life. By that I mean a life that is meaningful to you. It does not mean success because you have lots of money or fame or possessions, it means having satisfation that your life was well spent. I hope some of your followers will comment. This subject is really not dark at all and I think it was a good choice and it is evident that you have a pretty healthy outlook on death and dying.

  2. Thanks Susan! I share your outlook on money and happiness.