Friday, April 22, 2016

Crematory Stories

The author once worked at an Oakland, California, crematory, disguised by her as Westwind.

Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014), 170-1.

People had wild theories about what we did with the bodies. Elderly women would call the crematory, their voices shaky and slightly confused.

“Westwind Cremation and Burial, this is Caitlin,” I would answer.

“Hello, dear, I’m Estelle,” said one woman. “You are going to cremate me when I die. I have the paperwork with your company and it’s all paid for. But I saw a thing on the news this morning about you all burning the bodies together dear, is that right?”

“No, ma’am, everyone is cremated on their own here,” I said firmly.

“They said you put a pile of bodies on a bonfire and there is a big pile of ashes afterwards and you just scoop from that pile,” Estelle said.

“Ma’am, I’m not sure who ‘they’ are.”

“The news people,” she said.

“Well, I promise they aren’t talking about us here at Westwind. Everyone gets their own serial number and is cremated alone,” I assured her.

She sighed. “Well, OK dear. I’ve lived so long and I’m just real afraid about dying and being left in a pile of bodies.”

Estelle wasn’t alone in her fears. One woman called to ask if bodies were kept hanging on meat hooks in the refrigerator like sides of beef. An enraged gentleman informed me we shouldn’t be charging for a sea scattering because all that meant was “dumpin’ the ashes in the toilet with a packet of salt and flushing.”

It broke my heart to hear them, even the ones who were screaming at me. Holy crap, you’ve been thinking that? I thought. You think you’re going to die and be hung on a meat hook before being thrown into a bonfire of corpses and flushed down the toilet?