Perhaps you saw the story, reported by Associated Press writer Michael Rubikam, on 07/06/10. The headline was an attention grabber: Widow lives with corpses of husband, twin. It was the kind of headline that, save for the limited attention-span generation, won’t let you not take time to read the story behind it.
It seems that a 91 year old widow in rural northern Pennsylvania, Jean Stevens, had the embalmed corpses of her late husband and twin sister dug up and placed in her garage and house, where she could look at and talk to them. After someone revealed this to authorities and had the bodies removed, the story reports that “She knows what people must think of her. But she had her reasons, and they are complicated, a bit sad, and in their own peculiar way, sweet.” They come across as the reasons of, not an unbalanced or pitifully ignorant person, but of a thinking, if somewhat eccentric, person.
She kept her husband and sister well-dressed and seated on couches where she could see and touch them…even talk to them…because, “when you put them in the (ground), that’s goodbye, goodbye.” She worries that after death, there is nothing. But then, gazing at the stars in the skies and the deer in the fields, she thinks “There must be somebody who created this. It didn’t come up like mushrooms. I don’t always go to church, but I want to believe.”
If anyone in this AP story strikes me as holier-than-thou and less than grounded, it’s Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA psychiatry professor, who is reported as declaring that
…people who aren’t particularly spiritual or religious often have a difficult time with death because they fear that death is truly the end. For them, she said, “death doesn’t exist. They deny death.”
In the first place, people can be spiritual without being religious, and in the second place, Stevens doesn’t deny death – she deals with it in her own way. Just because Mrs. Stevens’ way isn’t Dr. Lavretsky’s way is no reason to put down the former from on high.
Somehow I can’t help but feel that I could have a much more engaging, thoughtful and human conversation with Mrs. Stevens than with Dr. Lavretsky. One thing I know for certain – I would much rather give a great big hug to Mrs. Stevens.