The final dissolution

My friend and former proofreader Malcolm Stone used to mock the sales department and anyone within earshot if there was even a hint that The Stanstead Journal might publish a special section on funerals, estate-planning and other end-of-life affairs. “The Death Supplement,” he called it. On those rare occasions when we put the paper to bed before deadline, he would cry, “Well then, let’s get started on the Death Supplement!” He sneered so fiercely at the unsavoury notion that he shamed the publishers into never giving it a shot – which is too bad, because we probably would have made a killing.

The problem with the Death Supplement and the post-living industry as a whole, Malcolm felt, was their over-reliance on euphemism and gentle imagery to soften the edges of death. He’d rather have a body buried in a coffin in the graveyard than the deceased interred in a casket in a memorial plot. Plain talking, that’s what newspapers should be about, not selling ads about “deadies.”

So, I’m not sure how Malcolm would have felt about the funeral home ad – sorry; “advertorial,” another euphemism he loathed – in last week’s Journal that was surprisingly blunt about disposing the body.

They call it “aquamation,” but really it’s called “alkaline hydrolysis,” and I hope you’re ready for this. What happens is the body is placed in a high-pressure solution of water and lye and heated to 350F. The process breaks down the body’s tissues in about three hours. You basically become broth.

Fire in the hole!

Fire in the hole!

The liquid may then be poured down the drain and into your municipal sewage treatment system, which at first sounds terrible from a community standpoint, but you-brew-down-the-loo isn’t that much worse than everything else we flush away, when you think about it. I see ducks floating on our local sewage treatment pond all the time, so it can’t be that bad. But definitely don’t eat duck.

According to Wikipedia, the liquid can also be disposed of “through some other method including use in a garden or green space.”


“Gladys, how do you keep your rhododendrons so vibrant?”

“Well, I feed them with 3 parts water, 2 parts Vita Grow and 1 part Uncle Martin.”

As for the skeleton, the process softens the bones to the point where they can easily be crumbled. I really want to make a joke about crackers right now, but let’s try to keep this in good taste.

The instinct, after all, is to be appalled by this – dissolving your loved ones! I’ve seen “Breaking Bad” and dissolving was certainly not reserved for “loved ones.” But, really, is body disposal by pressure-cooker any more bizarre than burning or out-of-sight-out-of-mind decomposition? Granted, as anyone who’s tried making pickles can attest, things can quickly get out of hand with liquids, and I am not mopping that up!

But, according to the ad in The Journal, alkaline hydrolysis uses 10 percent the energy of cremation and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint – or, in this case, wet spot. Plus, the Catholic Church is generally opposed to the idea, so it must hold some forward-thinking merit.

I could actually get on board with this – I like to cook, for starters, so there’s a certain resonance there – and I liked the frank way the funeral home talked about it, even admitting that aquamation is not for everyone – unlike death.

However, if they’re going to insist on calling it “aquamation,” I’m out.

“Cremation” and “cremate” are legitimate words, from the Latin “cremare,” which means “to burn” – obviously; pretty much a no-cerebrum-er.

But just because you want to liquefy a body instead of burn it, you can’t simply turn the “mation” part of the word into a suffix and have it mean “to get rid of a body” and stick “aqua” in front to mean “by water.” You can’t “aquamate” someone. (In fact, that sounds like something much, much friendlier.) You might as well say you’re going to dispose of a body using caffeine and call it “coffeemate.”

Why not just call a spade a liquefied spade?

It’s good we’re getting over our squeamishness about body disposal to the point where we can talk about it openly or at very least shout at our spouse over the breakfast table, “I can’t believe I’m reading this in The Journal!” Life is short and death is long, so we might as well discuss how we plan to spend the time and have the grownup language to do it.

I think Malcolm would agree, but, alas, he’s passed away.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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43 Responses to The final dissolution

  1. List of X says:

    Aquamation? They just don’t have the guts to call it what it is – liquidation.

  2. Of course if they ran any discounts on aquamation (agreed, it’s an awful euphemism), they would confuse people mightily by calling it a “Liquidation Sale!”.

  3. Paul says:

    Oh, poor Malcolm – already dearly departed, I would assume exiting by a tasteful internment (sorry Malcolm). Oh how he would have rejoiced at the aquamation of his colleagues – the opportunity to rail against the twisting of our beautiful language to deliberately avoid saying the truth. And how is it that eventually we naturally invent the very processes that our seedier social members have been seeking for centuries – the ultimate way to dispose of a body with no residue – and of course the legal nicety stipulating : no body no murder. Ahhh, what Al Capone would have given for such technology. And at one point visitors may arrive on our lovely little planet to introduce themselves and find no sign of human life – just rows of aquamation machines cooling. Now. if we could just find some way to make nutritious wafers from the liquid remains and we would have succeeded in bringing Soylent Green to reality. We could leave out some tea and wafers for our future visitors.

  4. Gavin Keenan says:

    This would be a great thing to see in water parks. Sort of the last ride, or “Final Flush” as it were.Family discounts, special outing packages, the whole promotional splash.

  5. Carrie Rubin says:

    This is fascinating and a bit creepy all at the same time. But once we get past our human reaction to it, I suppose it makes sense.

    “Well, I feed them with 3 parts water, 2 parts Vita Grow and 1 part Uncle Martin.”—Ha!

  6. Elyse says:

    “Coffeemate.” The chicken broth I’m eating nearly came through my nose on that one!

  7. franhunne4u says:

    Next time I am needing a nice chicken soup against a bad cold I might be turned off of making one – and it is all your fault. Forget chicken soup – next time I use that powdered soup I might look into my mug and ask: “Grandma?”

  8. ksbeth says:

    he’s ‘gone to the farm.’

  9. byebyebeer says:

    Malcolm must be rolling in his burial plot or commemorative urn. I like the idea of aquamation, though agree it’s a lazy, silly name. Sealing bodies in coffins and vaults never made sense, even when I was a kid. We’ll run out of space and I’d rather go up in flames quickly than rot for decades. Aquamation sounds horribly violent but practical. Would admittedly rather be poured over rhododendrons afterwards than down the loo.

  10. Ned's Blog says:

    This sounds much faster than the Crock-pot. Which reminds me, it’s time to go stir…

  11. pointlessboob says:

    Goulash – Now with more Ghoul! It tastes just like your mother’s goulash. (Because it’s your mother.)

  12. pointlessboob says:

    Actually, I was just thinking I’d like to be pickled. All the time. In fact, I’ve been drinking since noon. What were we talking about?

  13. I read through, went back to the top and glanced through it a second time and still can’t ascertain whether or not this is serious. Canadian humor is notoriously warped so I’m not going to decided until you confirm, upon your honor, that this is legitimate and not just one of your fiction exercises. Can you do that for me?

  14. Letizia says:

    This is fascinating (and the comments are so fun to read too). Why not liquify? Lacks the ritual of dirt or fire perhaps but there’s a beautiful purification to it. Someone bought me a book on the business of cremation this summer actually. I can’t remember the name right now – I haven’t read it yet, but if it’s good, I’ll let you know.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Yes, please, do. There’s a slim book out several years ago called The Undertaking by a guy who, I believe, is both a mortician and a poet. Can’t recall his name but the book was quite thoughtful.
      Fire, earth, water — all the elements, right?

  15. markbialczak says:

    Not to mention the opportunity for loved ones to truly lament, Poor uncle Jamal. All his hopes and dreams went down the drain. Hey, I’m with you, Ross. AquaMation is OK for the new show at SeaWorld, but pinning it to something serious like this is a hose job.

  16. Excellent post. Fascinating, and the comments were great, too. I’m going to print this out, and tuck it into my copy of “The Mummy Congress” by H. Pringle. And I’ll look up a copy of “The Undertaking”
    There’s a wonderful blogger in Texas, on WP under the name “Shoreacres” who recently posted “The Poets’ Birds: Vultures” which included a poem “Vulture” by Robinson Jeffers. In North America, some of the native tribes practiced “air burial” (corpses up above coyote level on wooden scaffolds) and I think some Mongols, Tibetans, etc. still do this. It has some possible drawbacks.
    When Rudyard Kipling was a boy in India, his mom was working on her rose bed, and had just said to a gardener “Would you please give me a hand?” when a passing vulture dropped one on her.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      “Oh Those Kiplings!” (MGM 1937)
      I had a copy of The Undertaking until someone “borrowed” it.

      • I just remembered there are ads out there for funeral cosmetology by the family that keeps Lenin looking so lifelike (kind of cheating, because he looked pretty pallid and deathlike while he was alive). And a company in Utah called Summum, that does a semi-Pharoah-style mummification, except with plastic wrap instead of linen. I was pretty bummed to miss the mummies in Chile, but I may have to visit the dept of motor vehicles in Boston, and my friends told me to look around the waiting area.

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