Since the airing of the show, I am constantly asked by individuals and coworkers (both in jest and all
seriousness), “So, what are the dead saying to you now?”
It is true that my study of death and dying tells me much about how we live and the present state of our culture. Overall my most recent observations tell me that we better listen.
Unlike the TV series, most of my deaths are not homicides, although it is one of the most profound causes. All death investigations start out with the hypothesis of “Homicide.” I must scientifically confirm that theory, or move on to another. Seventy-five percent of most sudden unexplained deaths are natural and relate in some way or another to the heart. There are also accidental deaths, suicides and deaths where the final natural cause must be explored. But the dead tell us much more about our society than just an increase or decrease in violent crime.
For example, for the first time in history, drug overdose is a higher cause of death than automobile accidents.
Think about that.
Over the years we have had to get larger cots to transport bodies, as approximately forty percent of Americans are obese. Young people are now exhibiting pathological conditions once considered conditions of the elderly. Americans are far more sedentary. We sit too much, eat too many process foods, take too many medications and have a drug for every complaint. I would go so far as to say that based on the deaths I have seen, there is a general lack of self-control in our society, which gets blamed on someone or something else and individual self-examination is seldom practiced.
A disciplined life is seen as “less free” but the truth is that a disciplined life is a self-directed freer journey. This is true in so many aspects of our lives. Discipline in personal finance, sexual behavior, honesty towards others, and respect for others leads to the betterment of the whole society. The more individuals moderate their own behavior, the freer the society becomes because government is less necessary. The paradox is that everyone needs to reduce a small part of individual freedom for the larger freedom of the society. People generally don’t like to compromise, but if we are unable to self-regulate, a vacuum is formed, and we look to other powers, like a strong central government, to regulate the masses. Morality is replaced by state control.
So, what are the dead telling me? Quite simply: we need to get back to basics. We must treat each other with honesty and compassion. We need to be responsible for our own bodies, our families, and our communities. We must acknowledge that our self-discipline advances not only our freedom but also everyone else’s.
I remember as a child I went to a school that had the Ten Commandments written in the hallways. Since today this is not permitted in schools, maybe we can at least agree on “The Ten Suggestions,” to help us achieve a moral consensus.
Here are the ones I've come up with and strive to live by:
Contemplate the possibility that you are created for a purpose and that there is more to you than your physical self.
Try not to be fooled by the draw of the material world and realize that we are all mortal. There is a quote by a Zen master Seung Sahn: “Coming empty handed, going empty-handed- that is human.”
Watch what you say and don’t make your tongue an instrument of pain to the hearts of others or a weapon of division. Speak to heal.
Take at least one day off a week to be with those you love and contemplate what is important in life.
Honor those who love and sacrifice for you. It could be your parents or a curious blend of family, stepparents or loving friends.
Don’t take the life of another except in self-defense.
Take marriage and commitment seriously and be honest and true to each other.
Don’t steal from others; not on Wall Street and not on Main Street.
Don’t lie about others: don’t lie in business, don’t lie in politics and don’t lie to your partner.
Stop worrying about what others have or let commercials tell you what you must have to be happy. As per suggestion #2, we are all borrowing everything anyway. Concentrate on loving one another and making the world better off when you are gone.
As we enter the holiday season, relax and enjoy, but also take some time to contemplate the “Ten Suggestions” in your life.
Beyond the grave, the dead continue to teach me how to live. Thank you for allowing me to share these reflections with you.
There I was looking at the blinking cursor on the computer screen. Many are curious as to how I face the various faces of mortality on a regular basis and not get affected in my personal life and philosophy. The truth is I am extremely affected by my service to the dead and the constant reminder that I am just renting time on the globe. I do see life differently than most and I also have my own personal coping mechanisms.
I turned towards the familiar clicking sound on the floor as my dog walked over and looked as studiously at his empty water dish as I did the computer. Occasionally he would look at me and then back his dish. It is a known dog theory that if you look at anything long enough you will get what you want.
With a sigh of exasperation, I went over to his dish, filled it, and replaced it on the stand. My dog’s name is Sherlock. He is a golden doodle although I am not sure he is not a spirit from another realm, placed here by a universal intelligence to keep me sane, allowing me to decompress after another day of death and destruction.
I actually got him with the possibility of being a working cadaver dog but shortly realized it would destroy his gregarious personality. It was soon obvious that he was far more suited as a comfort dog. So many times I would be explaining to families how their loved one died as they were petting or hugging Sherlock. It was as though he knew they need a little therapy and love.
He has turned out to be my constant companion to whom I can relieve my tension and even tell him how interesting or tragic a day had been. It has always been curious to me how dogs have this intimate, familial relationship to man. The science part of me says, “Well of course, they have two sphincters in their rectum so they can be house trained.” That may be one factor but I prefer to think the great reason is a psychological connection. Dogs have a unique capacity of being able to love unconditionally.
He has become so much a part of my life. It reminds me of a poem, Dharma, by Billy Collins, one of America’s greatest poet laureates:
The way the dog trots out the front door