In the end, it’s an unapologetic and indisputable fact that we’re all headed to our final destination: six feet under (or a crematorium, for those of you whose relatives would prefer to keep your memory alive as a decorative urn over the family hearth).
Death is a fear that ranks just below the ultimate horror of speaking in public in this strange, illogical world of ours; yet what’s truly terrifying will be your cadaver’s second (but tragic) lease on life. We’ve leafed through the pathologist’s handbook to piece together some of the grisliest things your body does as it breaks down to its component slimy bits — right before it becomes worm fodder, of course. And when you’re done with these, you can always head over to the next chapter: to make heads and tail bone of it all.
1. Cadaveric spasms (or more about extreme rigor mortis).
Rigor mortis has enjoyed something of a cult-status among all its similarly disgusting counterparts — it’s the only stage of decomposition we hear about on television, presumably because it’s so… well, weird.
It happens to be one of the most recognisable signs of death, and is pretty easy to spot: a dead person with arms or legs suspended spread-eagle or a gaping jaw might seem a tad unusual, but it happens to be quite a well-documented phenomenon.
Is there anything creepier than finding an unfortunate person gone stiff? Enter the cadaveric spasm.
Imagine if a corpse stiffened at the precise moment of death: yes, a cadaveric spasm leaves a lot of scary-looking people in its wake. It’s a pretty rare situation, but it usually occurs when a death is particularly violent and associated with intense physical exertion.
Every now and then, you’ll have a first responder happen upon an incident where the facial expressions and the gestures have essentially been crystallised. What makes an interesting lead for a pathologist and eventually criminal investigators makes us hope we pass away in our sleep.
2. Feeling a little bloated?
Think it’s bad enough to be caught perched atop your marble throne after last night’s curry? Think again. Your real gastrointestinal (GI) problems don’t end with the irritable bowel you developed after eating last month’s Chinese takeaway — they start after everything in your life is history.
We’re actually pretty lucky to have the indentured servitude of the bacterial multitudes in our GI during a lifetime. Sure, we’re less-than-chuffed when we pass gas at a swanky cocktail party, but our trusty gut flora works to stimulate cell growth and fight heroically against trespassers who’ve overstayed their welcome.
The problem is that when we’re dead, they don’t have the confines of our natural immune system and our structural defenses to tell them what they “can and can’t” do. Putrefaction is word that, very aptly, sounds like what it describes: the process of decomposition as engineered by the bacteria that lives inside your body.
In case you’re reeling from the repurcussions of that last sentence, let us break it down for you: you’re being eaten up from the inside out. By your friends. It’s a veritable bacterial feeding frenzy that causes you to bloat like only seventy-two consecutive pub dinners can.
We’ll leave you with this: there are rumours that coffins are no longer well-sealed as they once were. It’s to prevent them from turning into gas cannisters and, wait for it, preempt the possibility that they explode clean out of the grave due to bloating caused by decomposition. Apparently, it’s happened before.
3 & 4. It’s all in the next chapter.
Make sure you read the second part of this entry.
Your turn: Which of these do you find most disturbing? Any other stages or details you think are even more macabre? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.