Eagle's Eye

Piles of Dust and Bones

Your Post-Mortem Options

Grace+Freedman+poses+as+a+corpse+from+the+underworld.
Grace Freedman poses as a corpse from the underworld.

Grace Freedman poses as a corpse from the underworld.

Photo illustration: Kyly Clark and Leah Pivirotto

Photo illustration: Kyly Clark and Leah Pivirotto

Grace Freedman poses as a corpse from the underworld.


Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






It’s late October, the time of year when ghosts come out from the underworld to visit the earth. But let’s put spooky Halloween stories aside and talk about what’s really going on underground, in the place where human bodies decay.

Dan O’Bryan, chair of humanities and social sciences, shares a memory: As a small boy, he wandered through an exhumed cemetery. His lineage had been buried here until the university purchased the land from the Catholic church. Coffins had been lifted out of the ground and broken open. He saw shrouds without bodies and bones that had been cast aside. He remembered seeing a pelvis in particular.

“That was grim,” O’Bryan says. “There is no rest for the dead.”

Seeing a corpse can be uncomfortable. Anything that is “behind closed doors” becomes unfamiliar, and thus, uncomfortable. Many of us would prefer to leave dead bodies in the hands of a funeral director.

But death is just as powerful as life. It’s another transition.

O’Bryan says the popular belief is that a dead body is unsanitary and must be dealt with quickly. But by law, the surviving family has plenty of freedom to help facilitate the end-of-life process.

According to Caitlin Doughty of The Order of the Good Death and Undertaking LA, a corpse is perfectly natural, unharmful, and can be beautiful.

Unless a person dies of a communicable disease, the body can remain at home until the family is ready to say their final goodbyes. Nolo, a legal information website, states that there are no existing laws in California or Nevada limiting how long a dead body can remain in the home while family members grieve.

When someone dies, the most that anyone needs to do is get a legal pronouncement of death. A doctor or a county coroner can make the pronouncement and write up a death certificate. After that is done, you do not have to move the body—or take any other steps—until you are ready. In the best cases, the person who died has told you how to handle their body. Most people choose from three post mortem options: embalming, cremation, or a natural burial.

Embalming

Once a body arrives at the mortuary, it has 24 hours to be processed. The technique most commonly used is embalming, a chemical process that drains the corpse of its blood, and re-inflates the arterial system with a mixture of formaldehyde and water to delay disintegration. Doughty reveals that behind the “formaldehyde curtain,” bodies are sprayed, sliced, pierced, pickled, trimmed, creamed, waxed, painted, rouged, and neatly dressed. The goal is to transform a corpse into a “beautiful memory picture.”

Benjamin Lewis, an ODAL and humanities major, is uncomfortable talking about death. He has memories of being on patrol in the military and walking into a freezer room in a hospital.

“There were about 18 corpses in there. I didn’t care if there were bombs in there, I needed to get out,” Lewis says. He’d prefer to see an embalmed body over a naturally decomposing one, he says. He hopes to die in an avalanche so his body is already buried and no one has to “deal with it.”

Cremation

Cremation involves placing a body into an incinerator and pressing the red button of flaming decay. It’s a popular choice because of its cost effectiveness and relatively quick purification. In California and Nevada, there aren’t many regulations for scattering ashes. After the crematory operator burns and blends a corpse into an industry-standard powder, the ashes can be released to the family with a permit.

The family can spread the ashes almost anywhere, as long as they aren’t obvious. The ashes can roam a national forest for eternity, or perhaps travel in a pendant around a loved one’s neck.

Natural Burial

A less popular choice would be a natural burial. In rural areas of California and Nevada, with populations of 50,000 or less, a family cemetery can be established on private land. In this case, the power of putting a body to rest is given to the family. The most you are legally bound to do is notify the Health Division of the Department of Health and Human Services. The body can remain at home and decompose naturally and be mourned by friends and family, helping them to recognize that this person will no longer contribute to the community. The body is wrapped in a shroud and placed 6 to 8 feet in the ground for proper decomposition. Bugs can feast on the body from the inside out, because no law requires a casket for burial or cremation.

Ben Trivino, a humanities major, wants his ashes to be put in a pod and planted with a tree. His ashes will give the tree vital nutrients and help it grow.

“I want to give my life back to the Earth,” Trivino says.

This Halloween, spend a few minutes thinking about death and how you want your body handled after you die. Your body is organic, compostable matter, and how you wish to deal with it is entirely up to you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • Campus

    Faculty Profile: Rick Winfield

  • Piles of Dust and Bones

    Campus

    Faculty Profile: Rick Parson

  • Piles of Dust and Bones

    Travel

    Travel Abroad Africa: Help Communities and Earn Credit

  • Piles of Dust and Bones

    Faculty of the Fortnight

    Faculty Profile: Christina Frederick

  • Piles of Dust and Bones

    Arts & Entertainment

    Japanuary

  • Piles of Dust and Bones

    Feature

    Shop Smart to Reduce Waste

  • Piles of Dust and Bones

    News

    Sacred Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Jeopardy

  • Piles of Dust and Bones

    Campus

    Student Q&A: Lillian Kuehneisen

  • Piles of Dust and Bones

    Campus

    Faculty Profile: Christian DeLeon

  • Piles of Dust and Bones

    Campus

    Writing Class Field Trip Reveals Nevada’s Lesser Known History

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The student news site of Sierra Nevada College
Piles of Dust and Bones