Friday, April 17, 2015

Preserving a Body with Aloe and Peruvian Mint -- book excerpt

How we preserved Dolores' body when she died
Using Aloe vera and Peruvian mint

[An excerpt from Christopher Nyerges’ book, “Til Death Do Us Part?” which is available from Kindle or a pdf download from]

After 1 p.m. or so, I began to call people to tell them that Dolores had died.  I was still in shock and disbelief.  I informed Dolores’ mentor RW as well as Prudence, Fikret, and Marilyn.  My operations began to be somewhat auto-pilot, as if I was in this world of alternate reality that I didn’t quite yet believe, but I still had to keep my body moving as if it was all real.

I covered Dolores’ body with a blanket, and my mind raced to think what I should do next.  I knew I would do a moment by moment life-review with Dolores during the better part of the next three days.  But I was also acutely aware that Dolores wanted her body to be left alone for three days after death. 

By 3 p.m. or so, Julie, Prudence, Fikret, RW and I gathered up on the hill.  We sat close together in a small circle and poured coffee-elixir, including one cup for Dolores. We toasted by touching our cups, and holding our cups in that touched position while we thought of Dolores.  I strongly felt Dolores above us as we sat there on the back porch.  I couldn’t control myself and I put my face into my hands and sobbed uncontrollably.  Everyone was quiet.

Then, after a while, we spoke of many things in the following two hours, including, “What now?”  Can we fulfill Dolores’ wishes of leaving her body alone for 3 days.  And if so, how do we do that?  None of us were undertakers and we had never done anything like this. 

After a lengthy discussion, we agreed that we would do our best to keep Dolores’ body preserved for the next three days.  I would not call any authorities to inform them of Dolores’ death, since we felt pretty certain that the legal authorities would not respect Dolores’ wishes, but would simply demand to inspect the body and remove it to elsewhere to do whatever they do to dead bodies.  Julie and Prudence came over that evening to prepare Dolores’ body.  Prudence had collected a huge bag of Aloe and jade and Peruvian mint.  Our plan was to wash and then wrap Dolores’ body, and then to set it on some sort of upraised rack in the bathtub.  We thought this was a good plan because the bathroom was always very cool, and we thought that a dead body would leak fluids.  Frankly, we had no idea what to expect.

I carried Dolores to the bathroom and we carefully and thoughtfully washed her body with warm water and soap, and then I combed her hair.  Meanwhile, Prudence washed and pureed all the green plants in the food processor.  She added a little water, and we had a thick green material, which we then strained. The result was about a half-gallon of very thick gelatinous green material. 

We set three milk crates up in the tub as a rack, and laid a large flat rigid screen over the crates.  We folded a thick blanket and laid it onto this rack.

Then we lovingly covered Dolores’ entire body with the green solution, and Prudence placed crushed Peruvian mint leaves into all the body openings (eyes, mouth, ears, etc.). We then dressed her in one of her long cotton T-shirts, and wrapped her with muslin cloth.  We then further wrapped her entire body in two layers of thin blankets, and then placed about ten “blue ice” containers around her body to keep it cool.  We lit a little votive candle and placed roses on top of her body.

Lastly, we tied a little bronze bell to Dolores toe via a string, so that the bell hung over the edge of the tub. This was based on an old practice since sometimes the “dead person” wasn’t really dead and could ring the bell to alert people that they’d awaken from their death-like coma.  In some cases, a person would be in a coffin, with a string stretched to the outside attached to a bell.  We were quite certain that Dolores was not merely in a coma, and that her time had come, but we tied on the bell nevertheless.

We felt we’d done as well as we could, so we cleaned up and Prudence and Julie departed.

I spent a fitful night, half-crying, half trying to review the details of our life together.  I took some notes that night, and tried to look at our interactions month by month from when we met, what I did right, what I did wrong, what I could have done better. 

In that moment, with Dolores “gone,” I felt plunged into a deep psychic darkness and I felt that my life was naught but a wasted opportunity, and that it was all so much loss.  I felt remorse and regret that I had caused Dolores so much pain in a marriage that seemed so full of promise at the beginning.  Even the entire world seemed dark, gloomy, empty.

I slept lightly, off and on, and awoke Wednesday to a cold dreary day.  I don’t remember what I did all day.  I ate something, I checked on Dolores, I cried, I met with someone.

In the evening, Prudence came over and we checked Dolores’ body. Our plan was to rewash and to re-cover her body with new linen and herbs. But there was no bad odor and no dripping liquids.  We didn’t know what to expect but her body seemed well-preserved and even sweet-smelling.  So we uncovered the blankets, and over the muslin, we applied a thick layer of Aloe vera juice we had just made.  As we had done the night before, we pureed the fresh Aloe leaves, strained them, and then covered Dolores’ body in this green solution.  Her body seemed to quickly absorb the Aloe.  This was actually very fascinating to do, and to observe, something I’ll never forget.

Then we wrapped and covered her body again, put back the blue ice, the roses, the photos, and re-tied the bell to her toe.  Prudence departed and I spent another fitful night.

Prudence came back Thursday night to check on Dolores body, and when we examined her, we found that there was no foul odor, and no appearance of any sort of “decay.”  We simply rewrapped the body, re-tied the bell, and put back the blue ice and roses.

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