People sometimes ask me how a dead body reacts once it is dead. I do not mean to refer to the dead as an “It” in a disrespectful way, for those of you reading this, I am simply taking the human element out of the conversation to respect the feelings of those who have lost someone to death. What I mean is that I am asked, do they sit up? do they moan? do the dead do living human things after they are dead? I have also been asked, do you get scared, or creeped out or have you had an experience that makes you want to scream or run? No, people do not sit up on their own unless they are still alive. It takes muscle action to sit up and after the body has died there is no communication from the brain to tell the muscle what to do. Yes, they do moan but only on occasion, air trapped in the lungs can escape through the lips to create a sound like moaning or sighing. The industry calls this a “death moan”. It is common but does not happen every time we move a dead body. I have known funeral directors to compress the chest and get the air out before they place the body on a gurney so they don’t have to experience this unexpectedly, even the most veteran funeral director gets creeped out by this. As far as doing living human things, to be blunt, dead bodies alleviate their bowels and bladders. Not all the time but frequently enough. This happens when all of the muscles in the body have relaxed, it just is what it is.
So, If the body cannot move on its own after it is dead, how then does one become grabbed by a dead man you ask? Well I will tell you.
Picture this. It is late and dark outside and I just got back to the mortuary with my passenger lying peacefully and still, not at all grabby, on the cot. He is to be embalmed, so I take the necessary steps to prepare and place him on the embalming table. I get him disrobed in preparation for the procedure (keeping the private parts private, of course) and start my other prep work. Part of this is to find a good radio station, (probably some classic rock as it was my go-to at the time) it is comforting to have music in the background when it is just you and the dead, in the dark of night, alone. So, music playing, embalming instruments out and ready and the man on the table with his arms lightly folded on his belly. As I start the work of closing his eyes and mouth, while silently pleading with him for a pleasant and natural expression, out of the corner of my eye I see a small movement and then wham! Something hit my leg with some force and then held on, this man’s hand has grabbed my thigh!
My first thoughts were, don’t react, don’t jump or scream. I am still… like a mouse… trying to assess what the heck was going on! I look at this man lying there, no signs of life, he is just as still as he should be, aside from his rigor mortised hand releasing my thigh and dangling off the table. The whole thing seems so silly now, because the man was not alive, he did not move to accost me on his own. In my concentration, my movements of the table while getting him ready simply jiggled his loosely placed arm off his belly, off the side of the table and onto my leg. This does happen, when the muscles of the body no longer work, the no longer working appendages tend to slide and slip if not secured in some fashion and end up in places they were not intended. In hindsight, it would have been wise for me to have placed him more centered on the table, instead of right at the edge where his silly, grabby arm could swing just so to handle my thigh. Woe is me and the hurdles I must face when preparing a grabby dead man.
I don’t really get scared, I do get startled sometimes and occasionally creeped out when at night it’s dark and spooky. But the dead are silent and still unless prompted otherwise and I am perfectly comfortable with that.