This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … burying the dead.
“Country clubs and cemeteries are the biggest wastes of prime real estate!”I’d like to ascribe that nugget of wisdom to Plato or Proust, but alas, it was only Rodney Dangerfield’s Al Czervik in Caddyshack. And like most of Dangerfield’s other lines in that movie, it’s brilliant.
I recently mentioned to someone that I had never visited either of my parent’s graves. This walking, talking human cookie-cutter of a person reacted with unthinking shock, mainly because she’s human, and most humans go through their days following the “I Have No Mind of My Own” playbook. Page 187 says you should react with shock to my statement. I think she’d have been less appalled had I said I was going to stop molesting eight-year-old boys. She could not understand why I had never shown my love to my deceased parents by going to a park littered with engraved slabs of granite and standing over a couple of lead boxes that contain the decaying remains of the bodies that housed who my parents really were. Yet I’m the weird one.
The whole burial system is absurd. It smacks of egotism. Nature allows us to take up space and use the earth’s resources while we’re alive. After that, the earth is for the living. How dare any of us think we have the right to tie up a plot of earth for decades or centuries just so that our bodies can rot in an $8000 tube. In the whole cosmic, timeless scheme of things, once we die our bodies are not important. This planet has hosted countless billions of human lives and uncountable other life forms, yet when one of us kicks off (an occurrence that, stunningly, does not affect the continued spinning of the earth), we spend thousands of dollars, waste valuable resources and tie up a chunk of earth so that Uncle Bart or Grandma Bertha can have a permanent rotting place … er, I’m sorry, I mean resting place.
And just what kind of adult-children live with the belief that dead people are “resting” once they’re dumped in a grave? Sorry, folks, but they are not resting. They are decaying. Because they are dead, and that is what dead things do, be that dead thing your Aunt Martha, your beloved cat Midnight (because if you believe the dead are resting, you draw from a bank of originality that results in you naming your black cat Midnight) or the stray carrot in the back of your produce drawer. It’s the natural cycle of things, and none of us are exempt.
Ever hear people talk about what a great location so-and-so has for a grave site? You know, as if the poor dead bastard is able to peer through a steel casket and six feet of settled earth and sod (not to mention eyes sewn shut by a mortician) and look out over that hillside and see … what, all the other goddamn headstones, I guess. I remember hearing these sentiments when they buried Ronald Reagan in a grave that overlooked the Pacific. I’m willing to bet your funeral fund that the dead Gipper has yet to enjoy a gorgeous Pacific sunset.
And if taking up a plot of valuable land isn’t insulting enough, the dead also take some pretty sweet swag with them when they are planted in that hole. People get buried in some damn fine suits and dresses. (I’ve always wondered … do they also put pants and shoes on the dead? If so, what a waste of good Florsheims.) And jewelry! I shit you not when I say that, in the days before my mother’s death, she had my sister bring her jewelry box to her so that my mother could pick out which earrings and necklace she would be laid out in. Now, I can maybe understand why a body needs to look good at a viewing, but there’s no need to bury a body in an Italian silk suit or $800 worth of bling. Before they slam shut that lid for the final time, I think a little pillaging is in order. Ebay exists for a reason, you know.
Then we have those funeral home scenes where the casket gets stuffed like Bob Cratchit’s Christmas goose, with footballs and letterman jackets and lacrosse sticks and damn near everything else from the poor deceased’s bedroom. It’s not like dead Uncle Alvin is going to get any use out of his favorite putter once some cemetery’s backhoe unceremoniously dumps a couple of tons of dirt on his dead and therefore no-longer-able-to-golf ass. I guess I can understand the family not wanting these painful reminders around the house, but some pretty valuable shit gets sealed in those caskets. You can’t tell me some funeral directors don’t loot the caskets before they seal up the body forever. Ever notice that they usher everyone out of the room before they do screw the lid on tight? I’m thinking it’s shopping time for some of these guys. At least I hope that’s the case. I hate the thought of perfectly good footballs and Tony Romo jerseys going down with the dead.
This is all not to imply that I am a heartless bastard who doesn’t grieve or miss certain dead relatives. I think of my parents every day. I still miss a grandmother, a favorite aunt and my mother’s cousin, three wonderful people of whom I have nothing but fond, loving memories. I’m just not going to visit their graves, because it’s morbid. Those people exist for me in the abstract, in my memory. In an instant, I can conjure up their spirits, their voices, the good feelings they still provide me. I do not need to go stand six feet over their rotting, mummified corpses to pay tribute to them or to feel closer to them. It’s sort of like Gertrude Stein’s famous description of Oakland: “There’s no there there.” At a cemetery, there’s no they there. It’s just rotting meat.
I also understand the need for an organized grieving process with a gathering of friends and loved ones delivering stirring eulogies and heartfelt tributes and having a clergyman issue some soothing words that makes us all feel a little bit better. All of that helps us accept a death, allows us to console others and reminds us that it’s normal to grieve. A proper goodbye is essential and beautiful. But after the last amen and after the final handshakes, hugs and back pats, forget the casket and the hole in the ground and incinerate that rigor-mortis-fied fucker.
Stop succumbing to the pressures of the funeral racket. The death industry is absurd. No one needs an airtight, water tight, felt-lined bed (and pillow!) once we’re dead. It goes against nature and it’s incredibly selfish to try to prevent a body from returning to the earth in a quick, natural manner.
Mrs. Bitters and I are going to be cremated, but only after allowing some eager med students to poke around in our no-longer-needed innards. Feel free to sell my Sidney Crosby jersey on eBay.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.