Essays About

Evaporating the Dead

Much of the awe and natural horror we feel upon seeing the cremated remains of a loved one is due to their slight volume—a mere urn of ash. Is that you in there, grandmother? Not only have all her complex features been standardized to dust, she has somehow become a midget. As a child I sat in her ample lap, now I can hold her in one hand. A miraculous weight loss!

How does a 150-pound adult body become an urnful of dust? Where do we go? According to industry literature, cremation is not primarily a process of combustion (like logs on a fire) but simple evaporation. Our bodies being made of mostly water, in the oven we go the way of sweat beads on summer pavement. This strange realization makes me think that an urnful of ash better represents our true size than a living body, which is only big with bloating. Drain the pond in the skin's shore, and we would shrivel like grapes into raisins. Our children would mistake us for their dolls.