I didn’t see that coming.
When I was first invited to go to an autopsy I didn’t think it was a real offer – like when someone offers to stay with your kids while you and your husband go away — they mean well, but it doesn’t go past the initial offer. This invitation was real and while it’s completely out of my comfort zone, I’m going to go.
I have to remind you, this isn’t anyplace close to what’s normal for me. I grew up in the suburbs and was raised by (mostly) normal parents. My father was a hard-working union employee until he retired and my mother stayed home to care for me and my 3 siblings. My parents grew up in the city and their parents were first generation Americans. They believed if you mentioned the word death, you had to douse yourself in holy water to erase the effect of the word being vocalized. I did not grow up in the death care industry.
Sure they saw death. They would play with their lamb every Easter before he became the holiday feast, but they had very strict beliefs (taboos) about human death. So when someone says, “Hey, would you like to come to an autopsy?” this is very out of the ordinary—even for me. I have this funnel of emotion swirling around me creating a physical reaction to this invitation—a mixture of nerves and nausea. After trying to sort through all of my mixed emotions, I think I can finally place them into buckets.
It’s emotional and sad.
I will be in a room with a person who was alive at the time I was invited. I’m invited to be there, they have no idea they will be there. As I write this blog, there is a good chance that person is still alive or dying in a tragic or unexpected manner that warrants an autopsy.
Shame and and curiosity.
I can’t say going to an autopsy was on my bucket list – before this I could have lived my entire life without ever having it cross my mind. At first, I was even a little embarrassed but my friend Alex put it in perspective – we work in pharmaceutical advertising and it’s not uncommon to sit in on a medical or surgical procedure. This is similar except there is no chance the patient will die. I’m also feeling shame – is it wrong to go or even blog about this? Is it disrespectful to the person or family of the person who died? Is there something wrong with me for accepting the invitation?
It will be gross.
I come from sturdy stock and I never felt there were limits to what I can do, but my son keeps reminding me of what I’m about to see. While I think Alex is right about the surgical similarities, there is a big difference. Surgery is a careful attempt to heal and fix a body and I just don’t get that same sense of calm when I think about the dismantling and investigation that happens at an autopsy.
And back to curiosity – how much care goes into reassembling the body? I know there isn’t a need to carefully put everything back the way you found it, but it bothers me to think it might all just get thrown back in.
Nervous and inappropriate laughter
I’m finding myself looking for funny autopsy cartoons and trying to make jokes about it. The line is blurry between nervous laughter and the ridiculousness of me being invited, so I’m making jokes and thinking about what I am going to wear. (and now I’m back to shame)…
Back to my original question:
What should I wear to the autopsy?
It was only fitting the first person I ran into after deciding to go to the autopsy was Alex. Not only is he a willing partner in any conversation about death, he happened to be wearing something I have to have to commemorate my maiden voyage to a place I never thought I would go to – an anatomical heart necklace. He let me borrow it and it kind of feels like we’re going steady.
This question may seem crazy and even inappropriate, but really it’s a complete distraction. Underneath all of the above, I’m nervous about going and not sure if I should.