For weeks the group couldn’t agree on the name for the club. Some thought it should be “Eternal Love.” That name invoked positive feelings and explained to an extent the group’s purpose. Others wanted the emphasis on the technical capabilities that the group was promoting. They gravitated towards the name “Craft Embalmers.” Several other names were suggested that had lower appeal. The members battled back and forth until in compromise and desperation they decided upon the name “Alternative Death Care.” Everyone agreed that the name fully captured the purpose and intent of the organization. Certified members became known as “Deathers.”
This is Audio Stories with J.B. Simien and this is the story of Alternative Death Care. Please join me each Saturday for a new original story at www.jbsimien.com.
It’s a cold Saturday Morning in February. Shelly Grey is sitting with two members of her new club (Tom and Jenny Stuart) in her kitchen. They are enjoying coffee and freshly baked pastries. The Stuart’s are advising Shelly on how to host the home funeral of her recently deceased infant son. The three of them just spent the last hour discussing the logistics of the process: receiving his body, washing his body, dressing him, preparing him for the viewing and the basic laws covering this alternative process. This afternoon these two Deathers will guide Shelly through the process.
Alternative Death Care is not just an organization of volunteers who help its members with the home funerary process, They also advocate, in court, for the right of their families to live with their deceased loved one’s in their homes (as they lived with them when they were alive).
There are other groups like theirs, which advocate for a home funeral process. However, they are not seeking to preserve the bodies of their loved ones. They are only trying to be more involved in the process of personal care for their deceased loved ones. They (like Alternative Death Care) don’t want their deceased loved ones to be given over to strangers for what has historically been the duties of the family. They see their connection with their loved ones as a contract to be there in a loving way from birth through life to death. Also, the high cost of the commercial funeral process encourages a do it yourself approach. They simply want to be part of the process then dispose of their loved ones with dignity. Alternative Death Care wants to keep their loved ones at home.
In rural areas of the U.S., in many countries throughout the world, and for all of human history, the family handled the care of deceased family members from death to burial. In the twentieth century, in urban areas, we surrendered all aspects of death to commercial processes. It is normal for the sick and the old to die in hospitals and nursing homes. The process of death has become a mystery to us. We pay others to take care of it. We are told: what is dignified and what is acceptable. We are told what we should do, how we should act and finally how we should display what we feel. So, we turned what had been a loving close to our relationship with a family member into a nuisance to be handled by strangers for a large amount of money.
Shelly’s son James was just three months old when he died. She doesn’t understand why he died. He was sleeping peacefully in his crib and hours later he had simply stopped breathing. He couldn’t be revived. He was her miracle child. She was forty-five when he was born. She and her husband had tried for more than two years to have a child. Finally, a year ago she became pregnant. Now, just three months after delivering James, she can’t let him go.
Alternative Death Care is going to help Shelly preserve his body. He will never get older and he will never decay. She can keep him with her and see him and speak to him when she wants. Her husband Carl thinks this is wrong. He wants to bury their son. She said that she won’t allow that. She can’t let him do it.
It’s not so strange to live with the dead. Think of all the famous unburied preserved corpses like Vladimir Lenin in Russia and Eva Perón in Argentina. With expert preservation, they have remained lifelike in appearance. If a body is embalmed with a superior method it will appear to be alive. The club has many members who maintain their deceased loved ones at home. They care for their loved ones as if they are still living. They clean them, dress them, groom them, and talk to them. The deceased loved ones still participate in the family’s activities (especially holidays).
The club has members skilled in many advanced technological and medical processes. The newest preservation process involves bionic implants. The Technological Service Section of the club (TSS) is experimenting with implanting bionic servos into muscle tissue. The results are stunning. The servos activate the muscle tissue and stimulate the movement of the body parts. They also control tissue decay since synthetic oxygenated blood circulates throughout the body (because of the servos). Although the effect is artificial, the body is capable of controlled animated movement and it does not decay (it is self-healing). The mind is gone but the body is ok. This is the process Shelly wants James to have.
Tom and Jenny are finalizing the details. They and Shelly will prepare James body this afternoon at home in the garage and display him at the wake tonight in the Livingroom. Just the immediate family will be there tonight. The funeral is on Sunday. All family and friends can attend. On Monday, Shelly will observe the technical section implant the servos into James’ body and transform him.
Carl doesn’t want this final stage to happen. He wants to bury their son and live with the memories. Shelly says, “I don’t understand why we should limit ourselves to memories when we can have our child at home. This is not a denial of death. It is a transformation of death to a useful level.”
For the past ten months, James has lived at home with Shelly. The servos are preserving his body as planned. Every day, Shelly grooms him and dresses him. Frequently, she places him in his baby carrier and goes shopping, or to work, or to church, or to visit friends. When strangers see James they think he is sleeping. They always remark what a good baby he is to be so quite. Shelly’s associates at work and church have asked her to stop bringing James with her. She still brings him. She just keeps him in a large purse out of view. He is always near her.
Today, James and Shelly are enjoying Christmas Day dinner with twelve members of the club. They have gathered at Tom and Jenny’s house with their animated loved ones and some loved ones that didn’t undergo the servo process. The club members have become Shelly’s extended family. She says, “We share a common view of the world.” She has drifted away from most of her old friends (the ones that she had prior to joining the club). “They seem repulsed by my decisions regarding James,” she says. Over the past ten months, Carl has become increasingly distressed. He is worried about Shelly’s sanity and his own. Shelly said, “Carl is a good man and I miss him but I have chosen to care for our son. He will be OK. James needs me more.”
This concludes the story Alternative Death Care. I hope you have enjoyed it and that you will leave some comments about the story. Please join me next Saturday at www.jbsimien.com for a new original story. Thank you and take care.