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I am scared of dead bodies. 

They call it necrophobia, and I think it is a MUCH more reasonable phobia than some of the others out there, like Uranophobia (fear of Heaven) or Ophalophobia (fear of bellybuttons).

I don’t think there is anything weird about being scared of this:

But I suppose most people don’t equate all things dead with being like that picture. I do. Graveyard? I see that. Dead loved one in a casket? I see that. My brain doesn’t separate the two. Dead = looks like zombies. If they don’t yet, my brain imagines what WILL happen as the body decomposes.

The hardest part of university for me was Comparative Chordate Anatomy, because we had to dissect increasingly complex organisms, ending with a dead cat. The fetal pig and lamprey were bad enough but the dead cat?

I’ve dissected a number of dead cats, now, because I had to do two of them in Vet Tech school, too, and let me tell you, THOSE CATS DO NOT LOOK LIKE THEY’RE RESTING PEACEFULLY. Eyes wide, mouth agape (apparently most of them are euthanized using a vacuum or gas chamber, and I’d diet with a horrified gape on my face too if they did that to me).

So I’d have to cut open this dead thing with its nightmare face and I would be silently FREAKING OUT. I had to get my lab partner to fetch it and I wouldn’t work on it when alone. I needed someone else there in case it came to life and just yelled “STOP!” at me.

But I’ve been slowly working on it.

I started watching CSI when I was off work, and after a while their plastic fake corpses didn’t bother me. I have now progressed to watching The Walking Dead, and while it does give me the jumpies for the rest of the day,  I can watch it.

Once upon a time, I never could have.

Hell, when I was a teenager my mother was flipping channels and stumbled on a documentary on the Gulf War. They showed a body hanging out the back of a truck that had been burned beyond recognition. I screamed, Mum shut off the TV, but even so for the next FEW YEARS I would get this mental image of the burned corpse walking up the stairs behind me whenever I went to bed at night with the lights off downstairs.

Now I would hate it, and shudder, and probably still close my eyes and jump because that was a REAL body and not a TV rubber mask, but I could do it.

It helps that I don’t sleep alone any more.

Then I went out and bought a book. It’s called Stiff, and I had eyed it in bookstores for years, because it gets fantastic reviews but it’s all about what I hate most – corpses. Specifically, what the author calls “the curious lives of human cadavers”.

It really is fantastic. The author, Mary Roach, is brilliant and hilarious and I would kill to meet her in real life. Her combination of sensitivity and sense of humour is excellent, and she met my most nightmarish fantasies head on without making me want to burn out my eyeballs.

She describes the things that preys on my imagination the most – what does a body look like as it rots? How does a body look when it is being cremated? What goes on in the cellar of a funeral home. And she makes it seem… okay. Human.

I actually read the entire thing without getting scared.

So I do think that I am growing, and fighting this fairly irrational fear.

I am also being careful not to pass it on to Owl.

My father is phobic of snakes. It’s a family thing – he inherited it from his mother (who probably got it from HER mother). In her final days, my Nana complained to me that the nursing attendants were putting snakes in her room at night.

“I… don’t think they’re real snakes, Nana,” I said gently.

“No, probably not,” she admitted, but then she looked at me with haunted eyes, “but what kind of person puts fake snakes in a sick old lady’s room?”

I can only pray that I don’t see corpses coming into my room when I’m 95.

Anyway, growing up I had NO idea that my father was so scared of snakes. I look back on my exposure to snakes…

  • My mother fetching me to see a garden snake that then neighbour’s cat had caught, showing me how to hold it…
  • Seeing a boa constrictor at an expo in Singapore, and my mother letting the man drape it around my neck while she took a picture…
  • Almost running over an injured snake on a road trip, and my mother stepping out of the car to move it into the grass.

Now I realize that my father, while generally AROUND while this was happening, sure made himself scarce. He never handled the snakes or even lingered while this was going on. But he always slipped away quietly, or simply remained in the house/car.

He told me later that it gave him the shudders to see is daughter handling snakes, but my mother was determined that I not pick up his irrational fear.

It worked.

The inheritance of snake phobia ended with my Dad, and I have zero fear of snakes.

But I guess the family tendency to be scared of SOMETHING persisted, and I developed my fear of dead bodies after my school decided to teach the third graders about Egyptian Mummies.

Including taking us to see this mummy at the ROM

Including taking us to see this mummy at the ROM

If it hadn’t been mummies, it probably would have been something else. Clearly I just needed a phobia. But obviously, I don’t want to pass this fear down to Owl.

Part of my reason for watching The Walking Dead and reading Stiff was not just for personal therapy, but so that I can someday watch these things with Owl without jumping or acting scared.

Apparently I may not have to worry much about it.

It started with Owl grabbing my head one morning while trying to rouse me in bed and saying “This your SKULL, Mommy.”

It turns out that they were teaching the human skeleton at his daycare. At two and a half Owl can happily tell you where his skull is, where his ribs are, and where his femur is.

And now he LOVES skeletons.

In my attempt to improve his taste in music, I played In The Hall Of The Mountain King on Youtube – a tune that his toy electric guitar belts out and one of my personal favourites. He was fine with it, but then he spotted a skeleton in the suggested video and demanded to see it.

And so he watched, entranced, at a series of images of skeletons rising from the grave, dancing, playing the fiddle, rising in the air in a red-eyed swirl, all to the tune of the Danse Macabre.

And he loved it.

He talked about it for the rest of the day, and again the next.

“Saw skeletons dancing, Daddy,” he said “Me watch it again someday. It’s PWETTY.”

Watching this 7 minute interlude is now a daily request. I prefer it over LMFAO, but I find it completely baffling. The middle part particularly is rather SCARY. But he just loves skeletons.

He demanded to see MORE skeletons, so I decided to throw the worst at him – I showed him Night On Bald Mountain from Fantasia, reasoning that if THIS didn’t scare him, I would definitely be able to show him the rest of Fantasia, which I love but haven’t exposed him to yet because I figured it might be too scary.

Yeah, he loved it possibly even more than the Danse Macabre. 

(Does nothing scare this kid? Oh right, THE SUN.)

And it’s definitely the skeletons that he likes: I showed him my favourite piece from Fantasia  and while he watched it with fascination and lots of questions, he didn’t talk about it after or request it again. Ditto for The Sorceror’s Apprentice.

He just loves skeletons.

Fine by me. If he tells me they’re pretty, I’m not going to disagree.

Maybe he’ll convince me that he’s right, with time.

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