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.
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.