Saturday, October 13, 2001

''The bells of hell go ting-aling-aling, for you but not for me.
And the little devils how they sing-aling-aling, for you but not for me.
O, death where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling? O, grave thy victor-ee?''

(WWI trench song.)

It's invariably wonderful to have dinner with the priest and her boyfriend the policeman. You sometimes learn some interesting facts, too. For instance, among many topics for the evening, death was discussed by these two people whose jobs require them to deal with death on a regular basis. A difficult client, death is. But sometimes more bizarre than frightening.

For instance, the priest told us very briefly about speaking at the annual conference of Sveriges kyrkogård- och krematorieförbund, which roughly translates to Sweden's Cemetery and Crematorium Association, which is apparently a society of funeral directors.

The priest gets asked to speak all the time by various organizations, to be interviewed by television or newspapers, gets called on to sit on community panels, etc. because they're always looking for a priest who's not an old white guy. Of course, she happens to be a personable, thoughtful and natural speaker, which is why she keeps getting asked over and over.

Anyway, the funeral directors wanted her to speak about the church's current thinking on funerals or something along those lines. Instead she talked about what it takes for people to work with death all the time.

''They seemed to like what I said even though it wasn't what they asked for,'' she said. ''But the scary thing was, they all looked so waxy and pale. They looked like corpses themselves.''

And, though there were various, uh, ancillary products at the conference, such as pencils with ''Sveriges kyrkogård och-krematorieförbund'' printed on the side (she took one, of course), those attending the conference were, er, dead serious.

''I don't think they ever joke about death,'' she said.

Her boyfriend, the policeman, who had had to spend a day at the morgue as part of his training, said that the atmosphere is rather different there.

''Yeah, they joke around all right,'' he said. ''It's the only way to handle it. But the worst thing is the smell, and it stays in your clothes.''

The Swedish phrase for the day is begravningsentreprenör. It means mortician.

- by Francis S.

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