Death is no laughing matter. Except that sometimes it is. That is why we have what is called "gallows humour" — guys who in the past (in Olde England, for example) made morbid jokes as they stood on the gibbet getting ready to be hanged for anything from murder to stealing apples.. We often chuckle darkly over the grim doings of the Reaper, which explains why there are so many unsavory (but amusing) expressions associated with death: kick the bucket, snuff it, get wasted, get whacked (mafia), be greased (getting run over by a truck), croak (like a frog), bite the dust (cowboys and Indians), etc. When a worn out policeman commits suicide, we say "He ate his gun."
When being polite, we say "pass away", "went to her reward", "I heard you lost you mom, granny, uncle" etc.). We don't euthanize our pets; we "put them down" (Brit) or …."to sleep (Am). One way or the other, it's all about The End and the escapism associated with it.
But of course, although death is the end of YOU), it is the not the end of Everybody Else.. I mean, folks can't just leave your festering carcass stranded by the side of the road. They must bury you. Or burn you. Or something. And this is where the real fun starts.
Over the past year, I have read a handful of blogs and articles describing the horrors faced by Russian people when it comes time to dispose of the remains of their family members and/or loved ones (not always the same)..Now one expects the worst from politicians, priests and all the other rascals that work their parasitic black magic on the world. But you would think that in death one might at last encounter…well, a sort of reprieve from all this chicanery. You would think that after suffering "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" for whatever was your allotment of years, at the end, benevolent, caressing hands might reach out and bear you to your final resting place.
No chance. The sharks in the funeral business want one last bite of the apple. They want your money. In the United States, the cost of a respectable funeral is exorbitant. My late mother paid for all her funeral services in 1979. Except, alas for one omission. For some reason, she forgot to account for the so-called "opening and shutting of the casket." In plain English, this meant digging a hole, putting her in it, and filling it back up again. It hadn't been paid for, and by 2008 inflation had raised the cost enormously. When she died, my money was tied up in her bank account because I was out of the country so often and wanted it to be available to her in the case of emergency. I had returned from Russia to be at her side and while she lived I had Power of Attorney. At the very moment of her death, the P of A became null and void, and I couldn 't get access to either her OR my money until the official Death Certificates made their rounds among four or five offices. That was going to take a week, and the funeral needed to be in three days. The grave diggers refused to dig the hole until they had their money. The magnificent casket that she had bought when times were good (caskets are richly ornate and very expensive; coffins are little boxes for the poor) lay open awaiting her meager little form, adequately stuffed by the taxidermist at the mortuary. What to do?
My other family members being basically scavengers and scoundrels, there was no help. So I made a deal with the Funeral Director. "Put her in a slightly less expensive casket — but still a nice casket (I emphasized !) — and the money that is saved can be diverted to the grave diggers, I mean the Openers and Shutters of the Casket." That is what I told him and he agreed. The next day, which is when the mourners came to the funeral home to display their grief and view the waxen body with the blank facial expression that always looks more dead than Death itself (a grin would be unseemingly, a frown suggestive that some sort of Hell was already heating up beneath her) — I came to the Death Salon expecting my mom to be resting comfortably in a slightly more modest but still respectable casket. Instead, the Funeral Director had put her in a plain little cigar box that you would expect to be set aside for a homeless person. My aunt and cousins were waiting for me with fury in their faces. "How could you DO this to your mother than loved you so much !" they cried as one. "A pauper's grave for your dear MOTHER!!!" they shrieked in unison. They thought I had traded in the casket and skimmed off the refund to fill my own pockets. But the reason they thought that was because it was what THEY would have done, and they were probably pissed off because they hadn't thought of the idea first,.Besides, there is no surer way for an asshole to win favor with God than to vociferously condemn another alleged asshole..
My explanations fell of deaf ears, and, frankly, it WAS a disgrace. So I grabbed the Funeral Director by the scruff of his neck and told him to put her in the original coffin poste haste. I used my mom's credit cards to pay everything off. Not strictly legal, but at that point, without sleep for three days, I just said (as I have been known to do) "To hell with the law." It was better than having my mom stretched out on ice until she was unthawable, or melting like a dead raccoon on the asphalt under the sun.
Everything went swimmingly after that except for the graveside scene in the cemetery when a cell phone (mobile phone) went off during the most solemn moment of the eulogy. "Ta-Ra-Ra-BOOM-Dee-Day !!!!" it exploded like a celebration of some great moment in history. All that was missing was the fireworks. And this festive racket carried on for several seconds while the suddenly scandalized woman whose phone was the culprit (and who had forgotten to switch it off) frantically searched her immense handbag for it. It sounded as if my dead mother had just been elected President or perhaps launched on a rocket ship to the next galaxy.
I was too tired to slap the woman. Anyway, it WAS my mom's funeral and I needed to be good. Bottom line, the whole shabang cost enough to pay for one hell of a honeymoon for a newly married couple plus the first payment on their house. I mean, that kind of capital could have bailed me out of jail 35 times. And this…to put someone in a hole in the ground.
So this was my mother's American Funeral. But at least there were no gang wars or murders at the graveside.
In Russia, such things happen. Americans can usually ante up for the cost, many Russians can't. The thieves and scalpers don't care. It is the last chance they have to capitalize on Human Grief and fleece and filch everything you own. They ought to be shot dead, pure and simple. Instead, because Russian law doesn't regulate these matters closely enough, the baboons in the Duma having other pressing issues, the Death-Parasites can exploit human suffering to fill their pockets.
Now THAT is no laughing matter. The idea of illegal immigrants literally killing each other in a cemetery to decide who gets the money — that DOES make me laugh. And it is why Death is so often reduced in the end to a mere, snickering, conspiratorially-winking JOKE.
And religion? The only thing about religion that touches me in a most painful way is that so many really good people believe in it with all their hearts, and with all their hearts wish to give their loved ones a beautiful and dignified goodbye. But the crooks know that too. And cash in on it.
Here, they laugh at you. And they laugh at your dead.
If I have to jump into a tub of acid at the moment of death, I will NEVER permit my remains to be exploited in this way, nor my dear wife to go broke trying finance a hole in the damn ground for my dead ass.
Next time I will tell you about when I worked in an English crematorium back in the 1970s. You think you laughed at what I wrote this time? Just wait.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===