My Dead Life

Death Was Only The Beginning

Caskets are like shoes. They come in every shape, form, material and color too. Copper, stainless steel, cherry, oak, walnut and even mahogany. Hell, there’s even an 18th century vintage-style casket option for the rare goth-inclined woman who hopes to rest eternally in a silky tiger print lined box. Inside, the wild animal pattern is accented with thick black lace. Outside, like the cheeks of acquaintances who are taken aback by the very sight of it at the viewing, it shines a cherry red. I like to think of it as the casket for the type of woman who would, indeed, wear five-inch red stilettos to her own funeral like Mrs. Kingsley did. For an additional $800, we can put a memory tray on it. She did that too.
Not for you?
No? Don’t worry about it. There are other options. Color and material are only the start of it. How fancy and pricey are you willing to get? Just how much do you care about your newly deceased? And what does that say about you? These are the questions we don’t exactly ask but they are there – lingering like the soot of organic tissue that clings to crematory air. Twenty gauge if you hope to protect your loved one into eternity. If you don’t mind them getting wet, sixteen. (What kind of monster are you?) The thickness of the metals means everything, just sayin’.
I’ve become great at guessing grieving family members’ choices ahead. Lavender caskets are always for Grandma. Inevitably, a granddaughter or son will say the same thing, “Oh, she’d like that.” It takes everything in me not to remind them that at sixteen gauge and no vault tent, Grandma’s going to get wet. But I’ve come to realize it’s never really about the dead. I would know.
My family’s been delivering the dead for as far back as I can remember. When the phone rings at 3 a.m., it’s our job to help people get through it. It matters zero what else we might have to do. I’ve gone to final exams and even SATs fresh off a three-day Muslim burial stint and not even blinked. My parents are no different – juggling the rare young person car accident with Aunt Ethel’s preplanned arrangement. It’s just what we do.
It’s not like we’re immune to death. We have dead loved ones too. But no one really thinks of that as they stare at you, asking if it’s okay to just get a casket from Costco. For the record? Yes. You can do that. And no, we can’t charge you for it. Everything is mandated by state laws and no matter how much we’d recommend against it, rest assured, we’ll enable you to believe the pine box option because “Mom was very frugal” is in her, and your, best interest. (Yep. Tell yourself that.)
It’s nothing we haven’t done before and won’t continue to do again and again. The funeral industry is a lot like life and death. Everything is a big cycle. The family calls, we pick up the body and get it into refrigeration. From there, decisions are made – bury? Cremate? Viewing or memorial service? Rental casket? Urn or Folgers coffee can? Yep. That happens too. Embalming or no? Beware: If you refuse, you can’t view. The state won’t allow it. Everything in the funeral industry is regulated – and for good reason. And when I say regulated, I mean my life too, but we’ll get to that later. It’s not like I have any plans of dying soon.
There’s the preparation phase – which is a big part of where I come in. After the body is through embalmment, wrapped tight in plastic to prevent fluid leaks, it’s my job to get to work on restoration. With makeup from CVS and the help of cosmetic lights, it’s my job to position them and hide the bruises. It’s my job to cover the glue and make sure nothing pokes through. Basically, I’m a death-ling jack of all trades and master of exactly nothing. It’s ironically normal for a kid like me – who grew up in a funeral home and has nothing really better to do after school.
It’s not that I don’t have a life outside Harris & Sons. I do. But my extracurriculars are limited for health reasons. I’m saving up to get out of this place and figure out what I want to do. While my folks have other ideas for me, I’m determined to find out what life outside of death is really about. I refuse to let some stupid disease or even their rules stop me. But, like the dying process, things take time. I’m patient not because I want to be, but because I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. And, while I’m not so sure I believe in the light at the end of life, I am open to the possibilities. Lord knows, I’ve been exposed.
My name is Marlow Harris and this is my story—my life—as the kid who grew up in a funeral home. But that part? That was only the beginning.

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