For a lighthearted, factual, somewhat humorous, somewhat ghoulish approach to the subject of DEATH we are blessed to have available a series of YouTube presentations, Ask a Mortician, by Caitlin Doughty, licensed mortician and University of Chicago alumnus.  It was the April issue of The University of Chicago Magazine that introduced me to  Caitlin and all the things you wanted to know about death but were afraid to ask.  Since my family is asking what I desire in the way of “final arrangements,” I thought I’d better get up to speed.

Below is episode one of Ask a Mortician in which Caitlin explains rigor mortis which lasts from 2-3 days after death.   With her dark clothes, black hair and bangs, and sometimes sepulchral voice she is rather creepy and reminds me of Morticia in the Addams family. Later she  tells us that decomposition of the body only takes about two months. She finds the whole process rather beautiful, reminiscent of the biblical “ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” or the “back to the earth from which he sprung” of Sir Walter Scott.  I  found no hint in any of the videos which I viewed that Caitlin believed in a hereafter.

As for the “ashes” or the “cremains” given to the famiIy after cremation, Caitlin explains that the fleshy part of the corpse is vaporized when cremated and only the bones remain.  It is these bones, obligingly ground into ashes, that the family receives.

Here Caitlin talks about discussing death with children.

All these things considered, what would I prefer for MY final arrangements? First of all, if the wake and mass could take place quickly, I think I would rather not be embalmed. I will be “fresh enough” for a couple of days. However, permission is granted for embalming with good reason. Secondly, I have two sons who could make a lovely wooden casket if they were so inclined, but, otherwise, the cheapest casket will do. (I see nothing wrong with the idea of a “family casket” which could be used over and over!) Thirdly, I would prefer a grave to cremation. The church permits cremation nowadays and I do not worry that God will not be able to gather my scattered parts together in the hereafter. I expect my “hereafter” body will be quite different. Mary thought the risen Christ was the gardener and the apostles only recognized Him in the “breaking of the bread.” With surprise they exclaimed, “It is the Lord!” On top of which, God has shown he could handle even a fiery furnace if he wanted to.

By all means, I’d like a mass for a send off, and I’ll write about such arrangements elsewhere. There you have it. Whatever my children eventually decide is all right with me. I am hopeful that I’ll have better things to do than fret over what happens to this old body.


Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. — Matthew 10:28