February 16, 2015

The Bell

Therapists tell us that one of man's preeminent fears is being buried alive. It may be the reason mining disasters capture and hold our attention, even when they happen far from our shores. A subset of that fear is the notion of being cremated alive. The sense that if one woke, surrounded by flame, enclosed not just in a box, but also in a cabinet, it would lessen one's opportunity for escape.

In the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this fear seemed to reach epic proportions, evidenced by a series of inventions: specialized, safety coffins with an attached bell and pulley system. These systems were designed so that if one awoke after being buried, they could ring the bell and be rescued. Families often hired grave diggers to wait up through the night just in case a bell rang. This practice encouraged the phrases, "saved by the bell", "dead ringer" and "graveyard shift".

When I was small, I frequently endured status epileptics of the convulsive type. At age 35, I went for a blood test and suffered a massive, violent tonic-clonic event and the folks in the Cigna lab thought I had died in the chair from it. All of them left the room and turned out the lights. Only thanks to my husband, who has experience with my epileptic states, was I not carted out by a coroner.

For me, the idea that one might be perceived dead when she was not seemed possible. I read Poe's short story "Berenice" and a few others by Poe. It seemed to confirm my worst fears, until I really began thinking about it. Still, as calm as I have learned to be, I have told my family

NOT to cremate me and to definitely "wake" me for at least three days... And, DO NOT enbalm me.

Just keep me chilled and all will be well...

I think that's reasonable!


Selene said...

Wow. I remember reading about those systems of bells, and those Poe tales. And I can see why you'd make your family wait for a bit, just to make sure.

Kristen said...

Wow! That is so not where I thought you were going with that story. First - how scary! Second... My son is epileptic and very small - so we put bells on his wrists and ankles at night. My biggest fear is that he will seize for a long period of time while we sleep. I thought you were going to post something like that :)

Wheelchair Dancer said...

Wow. I was holding my breath though this until the very end -- which made me laugh out loud and then I stopped, a little shocked at myself.

great writing.