Lady Death Will Find You. Sadly, That Is Guaranteed

In Los Angeles Magazine last night, a ghoulish yet compelling story held my rapt attention. It was about what happens to you when you die. With a pre-amble that waxed philosophic on the inevitability of death despite all of our preoccupations with trying to stay healthy and put off the date, the next step, well, is coming.

The article by Ben Ehrenreich goes into the procedure, including what the state needs, that is, a death certificate. In LA, the coroners are very overworked, since every day 162 more bodies show up at the morgue, and have to be identified, and tagged with a label on the toe with a name. It’s a problem when someone turns up dead without ID, then they turn to dental records. Fingerprints are only good for people who have committed crimes and been caught.

Most LA medical examiners are women. A big problem is finding places to cremate overweight bodies. After 30 days, any body still in the possession of the cororner’s office is cremated. But there is a weight limit, anything over 350 lbs is a problem. The department had to search but finally found a place called Odd Fellows Cemetery where they will cremate even the obese, for $1 per pound. One weighed 710 pounds recently.

Insurance companies once paid for many autopsies, but today only about 10 percent of the dead get this type of examination. Now there are private companies like 1800AUTOPSY who people call to have this done. It costs $3000 and organs are donated for transplants.

North America is unique in the world in that we embalm bodies. Europeans are aghast at this process, and that we have long lines of cars and big ceremonies for regular folks who die. In other countries only the famous and the connected are afforded such attention.

A man named Patrick’s job is to fetch dead bodies after being sent by the funeral home. Hoarders, he said, present a great challenge because he won’t be able to wheel the gurney into the room. He’ll have to carry the body out.

He said the saddest thing is to pick up people who have died alone. Sometimes they are surrounded by empty bottles with the TV on. One woman was face down dead for two weeks, her daughter lived fours doors down from her but did not know.