life and everything after
As Mr. Harvell embalmed the two bodies, massaging stiff joints and pushing arterial fluid through blood vessels, Ms. Velazquez and Xenia Ware, the funeral home owner, stood nearby and discussed patrons. One family, they said, had insisted on holding a funeral service in northern New Jersey and then leading an hour-long procession south on the Garden State Parkway to the burial.
Mr Harvell appeared to record what was being said, while fragmenting his attention to his work and the Airpod Pro that was pressed into his right ear, through which he was carrying on a conversation with a friend. “That’s good,” he whispered, and it was hard to tell if he was talking to the living or the dead.
The air in the basement room was slowly filling with formaldehyde, which carried with it a sickening smell. The liquid had been drained from the machine, the blood poured into buckets hanging from the end of the stretchers; Mr Harvell washed the bodies again, massaging them as he went. He put dots of oil gel on their faces to moisturize the skin, then recalled aloud how a man once called him to plan his own funeral.
“He said, ‘I’ll be gone in about two weeks,'” Mr Harvell said. “And I said, ‘No, it’ll be fine.'” The man looked strong to Mr. Harvell; he knew him from the community, and it seemed absurd that he could die on such an orderly schedule. Two weeks later, however, he was gone. “And that really did something to me,” Mr. Harvell said. “One person was right there, and laughing and joking, and, next thing you know, they’re not there anymore.”
Mr. Harvell mentioned that his own brother died, suddenly, in 2013. Then his grandmother in 2016. Then another brother in 2018. He embalmed them all. “A lot of times I think that’s what happens to us,” he said. “People who go on and die, they accepted it. It’s who they leave behind, we won’t let go.
Ms Velazquez, in the doorway, recalled how difficult it had been when her husband died suddenly. People were trying to talk to her, to console her. “For me, it’s just, like, let me be,” she said. “Don’t try for nothing. It will go away on its own. »
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