The library’s audiobook app knows me so well that it decided to recommend to me Mary Roach’s 2004 bestseller Stiff. A book about cadavers called “Stiff” sounded awesome, almost as awesome as the others book about science and sex called Bonk. With nothing to lose except my ignorance about what happens when I die, I pressed the Check Out button and enjoyed the next eight hours of audio delight.
In the book, author Mary Roach saucily quips her way across time and the planet to understand how humans have treated their dead, why, and what we could/should be doing in the future. The humor for me injects a much needed mood lightener given the subject matter. The audiobook is read by Shelly Frasier, who sounds charmingly reminiscent of Jodie Foster or Holly Hunter. That helps as well.
What sticks out to me the most about our bodies when we die is the indignity of it. No matter how stately or wise or joyful or loving you are, when you die, you just die. Your drops, stiffens, putrefies, liquefies. It doesn’t seem right. It seems like a lot of human history with corpses and cadavers is about trying to find a way to honor the bodies of the dead. Some have tried to do this through study or dissection, so that the dead bodies don’t decompose or disappear in vain. Others see burial as more appropriate, or cremation, or becoming compost to give back to nature. Ash to ash, dust to dust, etc.
My personal belief is that the soul and the body are related but not the same, and so I think the body should be respected, but in a pragmatic way. Being compost seems fine to me. Maybe you disagree, which is totally ok with me! This book may help you figure out why you disagree.
It’s a fun read and I recommend the audiobook if you aren’t squeamish. I understand a similar but newer book was recently published within the last few years. Feel free to leave the name in the comments!