Other Than Taxes, That Other Certain Thing

by Curt Kovener
For those new to the community, perhaps you did not know my family ran the local funeral home for over a century. That meant death was a way of life for us but maybe there are some things about kicking the bucket you that maybe you didn’t know.
•The practice of burying the dead may date back 350,000 years, as evidenced by a 45-foot-deep pit in Atapuerca, Spain, filled with the fossils of 27 hominids of the species Homo heidelbergensis, a possible ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans.
•Never say die: There are at least 200 euphemisms for death, including ‘to be in Abraham’s bosom’, ‘just add maggots’, and (thanks to Star Trek) ‘sleep with the Tribbles.’
•No American has died of old age since 1951. That was the year the government eliminated that classification on death certificates.
•The trigger of death, in all cases, is lack of oxygen. Its decline may prompt muscle spasms, or the “agonal phase,” from the Greek word agon, or contest.
•Within three days of death, the enzymes that once digested your dinner begin to eat you. Ruptured cells become food for living bacteria in the gut, which release enough noxious gas to bloat the body and force the eyes to bulge outward.
•What a way to go. Burials in America deposit 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid-formaldehyde, methanol, and ethanol-into the soil each year. Cremation pumps dioxins, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide into the air. But if a green burial is your desire, a Swedish company, Promessa, will freeze-dry your body in liquid nitrogen, pulverize it with high-frequency vibrations, and seal the resulting powder in a cornstarch coffin. They claim this “ecological burial” will decompose in 6 to 12 months.
•Or you could engage in the ultimate recycling…Zoroastrians in India leave out the bodies of the dead to be consumed by vultures.
•Queen Victoria insisted on being buried with the bathrobe of her long-dead husband, Prince Albert, and a plaster cast of his hand.
•For organs to form during embryonic development, some cells must commit suicide. Without such programmed cell death, we would all be born with webbed feet, like ducks.
•Buried alive: In 19th-century Europe there was so much anecdotal evidence that living people were mistakenly declared dead that cadavers were laid out in “hospitals for the dead” while attendants awaited signs of putrefaction.
•Not a healthy place to go: Eighty percent of people in the United States die in a hospital. And in New York City, more people commit suicide than are murdered.
•You’re not getting out of this life alive: It is estimated that 100 billion people have died since humans began.