Uncle Will had died. He lived across the street. On Sunday afternoon the whole family went over to see him while we had our good clothes on. He looked natural, everybody said. But when I finally got next to the casket and stood on tiptoe to look in through the polished glass, I thought he looked a little stiff. You see, I was a child, and death is not natural to a child. It is artificial, unreal. But grownups think differently than children and have always tried to make death look natural.

Life After Death

The ancient Egyptian Pharaohs planned it carefully: furniture, reading material, dishes, food, even servants. Treat the dead man naturally. There is a life after death, and it is much more enjoyable to spend it in leisure with a full house, if you can afford it.

The classic Greek thinker did not make much over dying. It happens to everybody sooner or later; your time comes and you go. Accept it stoically, like Socrates who, though his friends cried, took the hemlock with poise and drank it down slowly, unruffled. He knew that he had an immortal soul that would shortly fly away from the prison of carnal flesh to the Elysian fields and philosophic serenity.

The Romans preferred a little ceremony to the matter, a little pomp and circumstance by the burial. They burned the dead man and disinfected his house for sanitary reasons; but they put flowers on his tomb every year. The important thing about dying was to die well. Die like a man, a noble Roman worthy of his country.

The African heathen viewed the dead with mixed feelings. They were afraid the dead man’s spirit would come back to haunt the living, and at the same time they wistfully desired to make use of his supernatural powers. So they made a fetish of his remains in order ...

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