Ashes to cat litter

I SAW in the Townsville Bulletin last week how the funeral industry is becoming cool and trendy.

I have my doubts about trendy, but cool strikes me as apt.

Apparently there is a new TV show, Six Feet Under, that is going to make the funeral business respectable.

It’s going to take more than a TV show.

Not dying would help, for a start.

Do they think we’re all going to chat casually with friends around candlelit dinner tables about coffins and the embalming process and the size plot we’ve ordered?

It’ll never catch on. I’m on the side of my wife’s father, an eccentric soul (now, anyway) who left his body to medical science.

The trouble was, medical science didn’t want him. “If he’d died when he was 20 we’d have been very keen,” said the man from the university medical school. “But we get a lot of 86-year-olds. They’re… well…”

I saved him the embarrassment. “Worn out,” I offered, filling the void.

He thanked me and hung up.

But the old boy had threatened to come back and haunt us if we gave him a funeral. He thought they were ridiculous.

“We’re the only creatures in the world who make all that fuss,” he said. “It’s self-serving, indulgent clap-trap and I don’t want any part of it. And especially not the leading role.”

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get rid of a body without a funeral?

We called an undertaker, who arrived with a trolley and asked us in hushed and sombre tones what ‘arrangements’ we wanted to make.

“None,” I said. “We just want you to take the body away.”

He purred soothingly. “Yes, yes. Of course. But after…?”

“Nothing after.”

He obviously thought I’d misunderstood. “No, what I mean is: what arrangements for the funeral?”

“No funeral. Nothing. Just take him away. We’ve finished with him. Come to think of it — he’s finished with him, too.”

I probably should have been more serious, but he had been a nice old man with a great sense of humour. He would have approved.

The undertaker gasped. “No funeral? No funeral!”

He took the old man away, or what was left of him.

We thought that was the end of it, but it wasn’t. The undertaker rang us three months later and told us he thought we might have been “emotionally distressed” when our loved one “passed away” so he had the body cremated anyway, and he thought we might like the ashes after all.

We didn’t have the heart to tell him no.

My mother-in-law (the widow) wouldn’t take the urn, though. She said it was exactly the kind of thing her late husband hated. So they poured the ashes into a cardboard box that somehow got left on the stairs for a few months.

Last time we visited it had gone. She couldn’t remember where. She probably mistook it for cat litter.