Caitlin Doughty – TRANSCRIPT
Do you remember meeting your first corpse? I do. I was 23 years old and had just taken a job at a crematory.
My position there was going to be not only cremating the dead but also preparing the bodies so the grieving families could see them one last time. I won’t say my first meeting with a corpse, day one at this new job, went entirely smoothly. I walked into the sterile preparation room, and there he was: laying under a white sheet. I was a little terrified of him, to be honest, I slowly pulled down the sheets to reveal his face, and he looked so dead. But in spite of his glazed over eyes, his gaping open mouth, his sunken skin, in spite of him looking deader than I had ever seen anything look dead, the room still seemed to pulsate with electric energy.
There was something so visceral, so powerful about being in the same room as a dead body, something that my society, your society, as well, has systematically kept away from us our entire lives. I said this was the first time I had met a corpse, like formally, but it was not the first time I had ever seen a corpse.
When I was younger, probably in elementary school, I went to a viewing for a distant relative. He had been chemically embalmed by the funeral home meaning his blood was drained out, and a mixture of formaldehyde and water put in. That procedure had swollen his skin and dyed it so he looked a bit more like a wax figure. He was an elderly man, but was wearing a full face of makeup – including pink lipstick – probably not the shade he would have chosen.