Embalming leaves her cold

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Worcester, Massachusetts

I see dead people.

But I don’t want to.

After attending my umpteenth wake this summer — we really are dropping like flies — I’m once again struck by our bizarre and rather gruesome need to dress and decorate the deceased human body like a child’s doll. Some years ago, I was standing somberly before the casket of a dead relative with my 10-year-old niece when she noted in a horrified but highly amusing stage whisper, “She looks like she’s gonna jump out of her coffin and get me.” For that lifelike depiction, I suppose we should credit the embalmer.

Too often, though, the dead don’t look very natural, despite extensive and expensive efforts to render the body fit for public display. The corpses of older folks seem to fare better in the “doesn’t she look good” department, perhaps because they’re already, well, old. It’s the younger people who never look quite right as they rest on their satin pillows: too much rouge, puffed up and waxy, the sort of lifeless ghouls befitting a Stephen King novel.

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