Having fun with death and dying - Kathy Jefcoats

Death and dying, funeral homes and cemeteries have always fascinated me although I am not sure why. When I lived in St. Louis, my family was friends with another family whose father was a caretaker of a cemetery. The family lived in a white house at the end of a long driveway behind the cemetery. At night, while our folks played cards and ate chocolate cake with white icing and drank black coffee, we kids played among the tombstones and swore we saw lights dancing among the graves. I don't ever remember being really scared, just fascinated. What would happen if a bony hand really did bust through the dirt and grass and grab my ankle while I passed by? I guess that explains my attraction to Stephen King.

Anyway, while I don't think I would like working in a funeral home, I would like to just hang around for a bit and observe. I think that is why I love the show, "Family Plots" on A&E. Set in a California funeral home, the show follows the staff and owner as they collect bodies, dress them out for services and meet with survivors. I have to admit I was horrified at first. I mean, as Americans we really take death seriously and I didn't think a show like that would be well-received.

Unbeknownst to me, however, an HBO series, "Six Feet Under," has already been airing. As I understand it, the fictional show is set in a family mortuary. So I guess A&E wanted to capitalize on that popularity with a real funeral home. I don't watch HBO but I watch a lot of A&E. If you haven't seen it, check it out, it's pretty funny.

I am not sure how popular either show might be in Walker County where the Tri-State Mortuary and Crematory had thousands of Georgians wondering where Grandma really is. I was working at the newspaper in Carrollton when that story broke and even wrote at least once about it when a local connection came up. I have to admit to being a little baffled about the hoopla. I mean, yeah, it is terrible to find bodies that were supposed to have been buried or cremated but it isn't like Brent Marsh killed any of them. He was just sloppy and lazy.

I remember thinking at the time that the reaction to the finding of the bodies says a lot about how Americans revere their dead. There is a lot of ceremony connected with death. Silk-lined caskets, funeral clothes – for the dead and the survivors – lots of flowers, prayers, songs, sermons. Death is a multi-million, if not in the billions, industry. Have you priced a casket lately? You can buy a good used car for the same price of an expensive one.

I don't understand it. When a person is dead, he is dead. He has no feelings, cannot be embarrassed or humiliated, has no rights to privacy, does not care one whit who wins the election in November. Yet the knowledge that he wound up as insect and animal food under some northwest Georgia pines instead of lying dressed to the nines on a pillow he does not need sends relatives into such hysterics that only millions of dollars can salve the wounds.

That is not to say Brent Marsh should not have been punished but come on. Survivors are splitting up millions of dollars just because their faith in the funeral home was shaken. Why are they profiting from this? Yes, they should get reimbursed for a body disposal they never got but this multi-million dollar settlement is ridiculous.

My own after-death plan includes being cremated, no service, flowers or music, and the scattering of my ashes somewhere in St. Louis. I don't want people mourning my loss, grieving over my death, coming back time and again to some weed-covered plot to place flowers on my birthday or deathday or some random holiday. I understand there is a grieving process and some people need that. I hope my family doesn't because I don't encourage it. I want them to party and celebrate my life and accomplishments, however minute they may be.

Not everyone takes death as seriously. There are Web sites, www.pushindaisies.com for one, where you can buy a coffin-shaped cake pan and chocolate candy in the shape of a hearse. There are clothing and jewelry, dead roses, books and music, key chains and videos. Irreverent? Maybe. Fun? Absolutely. Why not have fun? Life is too short to pine for the dead.

Kathy Jefcoats covers public safety in Henry County. She can be reached at 770-957-9161 or by e-mail at kjefcoats@henryherald.com .