Death is a tough subject for parents. Your kids want to know why Grandma suddenly collapsed, and you have to figure out what to do with the corpse in your living room. Good news: I can help you deal with both.
Tibetans dispose of bodies through an ancient practice known as Sky Burial. The body is left outside, often on a mountaintop, for scavenging animals to eat and dismember. By performing a Sky Burial in your own backyard you can teach your kids a vivid lesson about death and dispose of grandma in an environmentally friendly way.
This practice may sound gruesome, but it can also be educational. Your children will not only learn the true meaning of death, but also receive lessons on human anatomy, decomposition, and the function of scavengers in the natural ecosystem. As a bonus, they will be desensitized to most horror movies.
Prepare the body by stripping it naked and dragging it to an open spot in your backyard. It needs to be visible from the house and easily accessible by predators. Your children should be able to see it through their bedroom window, ideally while laying in bed.
To make the body more palatable to scavengers you might preemptively break up the corpse into manageable chunks. Use an axe or saw to chop off the legs, arms, and head. It might be tempting to try and use a hammer, but this will leave you with a pulpy mess. Grandma needs to be recognizable to get the educational benefit.
Tip: Can’t stand the smell? Don’t worry – death is natural, and so is decay. Bring a chunk of the rotting flesh into the house so that the whole family can acclimate to the odor.
Learning About Death
Bring your children outside each day to study the body as it decomposes. The first several days should be devoted to explaining the nature of death. Don’t sugarcoat the message. Explain clearly that death is the end, and that Grandma isn’t coming back, except as a zombie if they don’t do their homework.
Be prepared for tough questions, like “is Grandma in heaven?” or “why is spot chewing on Grandma’s leg?” You as a parent must do the honorable thing and be brutally honest. In fact, it would be more efficient if, after answering the questions (“no”, and “because he’s hungry”), you explain other uncomfortable facts of life. Let them know that Santa is a myth, and that Fido didn’t really go to a farm -he’s probably buried under a ton of trash at the dump.
Tip: If your dog or cat starts gnawing on the body – let them! It’s perfectly natural, and you can save money on pet food. Grandma always spoiled fluffy anyway.
There is no experience greater than waking up early to witness the first rays of sunlight break through the leaves and illuminate the morning dew. This is the perfect time to sit your children down in front of a rotting corpse and explain the virtues of minimalism.
Let them know that Grandma died because she had too many possessions. The media has invented many fictional diseases, but in the end there is only one thing that kills us all: cancer of the soul, caused by rampant materialism and the rejection of simplicity. Calmly explain that their toys are killing them, and will lead to a gruesome death. Follow that up by asking what they want for Christmas.
Death can be an unsettling topic. If your kids get too anxious during the process, try this: put some candy in the corpse’s hands one morning and tell them that Grandma brought them treats. This could bring up tricky questions about the afterlife, but they are easily explained by saying that the body walks around at night while they should be asleep. Drag the skeleton to their window late at night and tap the glass with a bony finger to reinforce this idea.
A Lesson in Human Anatomy
As they become visible through decay, highlight each major organ and explain the function. The key to engagement is a lighthearted, playful, approach. Toss around the stomach for a game of “hot potato”, explaining how digested potatoes go through the stomach. Brain matter is more malleable than other organs, and is perfect for forming little “brain balls” to juggle with.
My favorite demonstration is to unwind the intestines into a single long strand. Not entirely, as the human body has over 100 miles of intestine, but enough so that they can comprehend the length. I then hook up a garden hose to one end and turn the water on full blast for a demonstration of waste processing. Whether or not to include an extra knot tying lesson is up to you.
Tip: This is a perfect activity for your son or daughters scout troop! Have an exercise on wilderness survival, focused on surviving starvation through any means necessary.
An explanation of the liver’s functions is the perfect time for your child to have his or her first drink. As they sip rotgut gin, demonstrate alcohol’s effect by beating the extracted liver into a bloody pulp with a hammer. Hopefully the shocking metaphor and low quality booze will deter them from drinking for a long time.
As scavengers take their toll the body will become ragged and threadbare, probably even unrecognizable. It might be tempting to toss the remains over the fence, or slip it into a neighbor’s trash can, but you would be missing a golden learning opportunity.
Show your children the maggots that infest the corpse and make them understand that one day, possibly soon, they too will have a thousand wriggling insects eating their putrid flesh. If they start to cry, comfort them by explaining how scavengers, even small ones, are an important part of the cycle of life. Point out that even a lowly maggot will one day grow into a beautiful fly.
When the corpse has given all it can in terms of lesson material, and the pets have had their fill, it is time to dispose of the remains. With the kids watching, douse the pile of bones with gasoline and light it on fire. If you don’t have any propellant on hand, stuff the corpse into your barbecue and turn the knob to “extra crispy”.
Burning the body is a perfect opportunity to end the lesson on a festive note. Cook hot dogs over the burning pile of flesh, then roast marshmallows over the embers to make s’mores. With the lights low and stars shining overhead, explain one final universal truth in a solemn voice: The dead never die, their essence is transferred to us through junk food cooked over their burning remains.