Wanted: dead or alive

28 Jul

The final good-bye?

I don’t want to go all Morbid Molly on every one, but what’s with all of the unusual or unexpected deaths these past few weeks?  I already covered the lady marinating in the pool in Massachusetts (still giving me the willies),  there was my beloved Sherwood Schwartz, America’s snuggle rocker Dan Peek, reformed boozer Betty Ford and the marriage between Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.  Then last weekend crooner Amy Winehouse passed out for the last time.   A lot of people seemed shocked by this news, but is anyone really surprised?  Really?  Death is imminent for us all, but for 70-pound crack-heads it just seems entirely more likely that it’s going to happen sooner than later.

Because vampires and zombies are just things in teenage chick-lit, us grown-ups sort of expect that when you die, you die.  But this hasn’t always been the case.  In earlier times people lived in mortal fear of being buried alive.  Writers like Edgar Allen Poe did nothing to quell these notions.  Or you can gaze into Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, to be terrified that your body could be snatched from its resting place to be chopped up and sewn together with other not quite dead pieces to make a new, animated creature.  This seems ghastly and fictional, but these ideas took root in a shade of reality.  Being mistaken as dead and not just boring wasn’t all that uncommon.  It was for that very reason, the whole embalming and getting you into the ground lickity-split wasn’t always so.  Our first president, George Washington, was so terrified of not really being expired that he requested to not be buried until he was proven “dead” for at least twelve days.

Because it's better to be safe than sorry

In olden times coffins had glass panes so you could watch your decedent for feint signs of life and not have to catch a whiff if the movement turned out to be decay or just “escaping gases”.  Yuck.  There were also coffin patents for tricked out numbers fitted with little bells that would hang above ground attached to a string that went through the dirt and was placed in the dearly departed’s cold fingers.  You know, just in case.  Others had periscopes, for air supply and flags that would salute via underground pulley system.  At night, graveyard watchmen weren’t only trolling the cemetery to chase away grave-robbers and medical students who were moonlight cadaver shopping, they were also listening out for the cries of  “get me the hell outta here!”

The practice of waiting around is considered antiquated and a bit silly these days.  Most people even by-pass the morgue and head straight to the funeral home, where they get their pipes flushed and someone airbrushes their skin to look like they’ve been dipped in QT, slips them into something that’s never been worn and then fits them with an acrylic wig.  But guess what happened this week that has me thinking: “Not so fast”.

Like, zoinks!

An 80-year old dude in Johannesburg, South Africa had an asthma attack and his family figured he was dead.  Or maybe they hoped.  Either way.  At any rate, the authorities were notified and a freezer truck came and carted him away to the local morgue.  He got his toe tag, a sheet and then was nestled in the big refrigerator for safe keeping until funeral arrangements were made.  Roughly twenty-one hours later morgue employees were frightened when they heard cries for help, naturally assuming that a ghost was haunting the refrigerated compartment.  Morgue owner Ayanda Maqolo had to set an example and be brave in front of his workers, but he was scared too, so he called the police.  Once the po-po arrived they went in together.  Said Maqolo, “I was glad they had their firearms, in case something wanted to fight with us.”  At first I laughed at this.  Something?   But the sad truth is that I would have probably fled the building and ran into the woods yelling, “Chupacabra!!!” at the top of my lungs.

South African officials have contacted health officials and mandated that they make sure their relatives are really dead.  Um, wow.


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