When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Friday, March 08, 2013

On preserving the wrong sort of memories

Important people who died in foreign parts used to be taken home for burial stuffed into a barrel of something alcoholic. In 1805, Admiral Nelson's body was brought home in a barrel of brandy. In hot climates, bodies are either buried as soon as possible, before they start to stink (the origin of the contemporary funeral practices for Jews and Muslims), or they might be embalmed, if the body is to be viewed. Embalming is less common in the UK than the US, where open coffins are favoured. These are short term solutions to the problem of putrefaction, when scented handkerchiefs don't do the trick. The long term preservation of a body is another matter.

Channel 4's newsman Jon Snow has written a cautionary post in his blog about the plan to preserve the body of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, referring to the embalming of Kenya's President Kenyatta and the USSR's Lenin, who's been gradually crumbling over the years:
Lenin has suffered considerably down the years. An ear fell off some time ago and had to be re-attached. Nasty black splodges appear on his skin from time to time and have to be removed with hydrogen peroxide.
Poor Fido! Must have
been much better
looking before he died.
Not how Lenin probably expected to be remembered - a mouldering heap - and an example of how not to preserve the dead. If you're really keen to be kept around in some semblance of your living appearance, you could elect to be stuffed or plasticised. As I don't expect to look very attractive when I kick the bucket, I wouldn't want to inflict the sight of my corpse on anyone for longer than necessary, and in any case, some medical students will have a better use for it.

Stuffed dog from a collection of examples of what happens when taxidermy goes wrong.

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