Dead Bodies

Kip (Sarah) McMillan

February 28, 2013

One day my Ecuadorean family told me we were going to move the bones of my mom’s dead father and first husband. I was like, okay, it’s some kind of ceremony where we rest their coffins somewhere else. I was right about the ceremony part. After work, I go home and much of my extended family is getting ready to go. I didn’t have a chance to eat because they were leaving right that second and I didn’t know where the cemetery was. We get to the cemetery and the male members of the family have these long metal poles they’re using to break down the cement around the crypt. The cemetery is really beautiful. It was right after the Day of the Dead too, so all the crypts were covered in flowers. We stood around for about an hour as they chipped open the siding on my mom’s first’s husband’s resting place. Then another hour as they chipped open the one above it, where lay my mom’s dad. When the cement was finally all broken away, they pulled out the top coffin. My mom’s dad passed away 14 years ago, so the coffin was fairly decayed. It was layered in glass, much of which fell away as they placed it on the ground.

At this point, I’m thinking, okay, we’re going to go bury this coffin somewhere else or put it in a different crypt. Then they bring out this box. A fairly small box. At first, I can’t think of what it might be for. Until I realized that my mom never said we were moving the coffin. Just the bones.

Two of my uncles put on sanitary gloves and open that baby up. And start moving the bones into the smaller box, starting with the head. I was so stunned, I had no idea what to do. I just sat and watched in amazement. I wasn’t disgusted or anything. I mean, yeah, it wasn’t pretty but I was more intrigued than anything. In the States, we never ever see real dead bodies. I’ve never been to an open casket funeral but I feel like they don’t happen that often anymore. People are just too terrified of dead things. Maybe this is morbid but I’ve always wondered what a dead body looks like. We only see in movies and you should never take what you see in movies as truth. Although, on this particular sight, they were dead on, I might say.

After they moved all the bones of the father, they did the same thing with my mom’s first husband’s remains. I watched equally as stunned. Later that night, I talked to my mom and cousin about how in my culture, people don’t ever look at dead bodies or open up coffins. They seemed genuinely surprised at this. They were like, really? You’ve never seen a dead body before? How strange. My cousin told me how in her high school right now, they’re learning anatomy. And they’re doing it by watching a real life video dissection of a cadaver. I asked several times, a real cadaver? You’re certain it’s an actual body? Si, si, claro. Sure, they do the same sort of thing in medical school but a high school curriculum in the States would never have video of a real cadaver. We’re too scared of traumatizing the adolescents. They accept that death isn’t the prettiest thing but it happens, it’s there, and it’s just something you face. That’s something I can respect in a culture.

Kip (Sarah) McMillan