Mourning Coffee: The Tale of the Dead Coffee Table Wife

I recently went to Bristol for a conference and was thrilled to be able to spend my lunch hour roaming around the Death: The Human Experience exhibition. Part of the exhibit was a poem by Ash Dickinson called ‘Glass Coffin Coffee Table Wife’ which is based on one of those fake internet rumours begun by a cheesy site. However it occurred to me I’d never posted about it or explained why the story of the dead wife in a coffee table can’t possibly be true. Here’s the tale as it was written:

‘Jeff Green is a 32 year old American in Arizona, whose wife passed away. Due to the great pain he suffered due to her death, he did something totally out of character for a normal and sane person. He said, “I could no longer take the pain that my wife’s death has caused me, and I brought her back home.” This is where Jeff’s story takes a twisted turn. His wife, Lucy, was born with a heart condition that cut her life short at the young age of 29. Lucy’s last words to Jeff were, “We will meet again in heaven.”  
These words served no consolation to Jeff’s despair. At the funeral, in an act of desperation, Jeff decided that he would not let Lucy leave him.

Hey, Lucy!
“I called the cemetery caretaker and explained my feelings. I spoke with the authorities and got special permission to take my wife home with me. They thought it strange, but I was allowed to take her with me. I rather have her at home than seven feet under ground. Lucy had a great sense of humor and I’m sure she would appreciate being my coffee table.”
Jeff ordered a special glass casing that eliminates the decomposition of a dead body. “It cost me about $6,000.00, but it was worth it.” Some of his friends and relatives, filled with fear, stopped visiting Jeff. His true friends respected his decision and continue visiting him. Some even comment that it is a nice piece of furniture.’

There are many real life examples of spouses and lovers who are so distraught by the deaths of their partners they remain with the deceased for days, weeks or even months, and I’ve written about this type of necrophilia before. In this instance however, there is no such thing as a special glass case which eliminates decomposition so straight off the bat we know the story is a lie. Although there are a couple of very famous cases of artificial preservation (like that of Lenin and Eva Peron) and even natural preservation (like Rosalia Lombardo) they are the exception rather than the rule. Also, regular embalming only delays decomposition by three days or so – just enough time for a funeral to take place, not for years and years. Of course medically embalmed bodies donated to anatomy schools undergo a much longer, heavy duty process and can last for a couple of years but they look far more azoic and grey than the woman in this image and the process is expensive: a regular guy from Arizona would be unable to access or afford such treatment.

CTW3

I do like the fact that the story inspired Ash to write his poem and commision the artwork ‘Slinky Espadrilles’ by Dave Whitlam, below, as well as inspiring many a meme or story on the internet. Here’s the full poem:

Glass Coffin Coffee Table Wife

Stiff under magazines in the afterlife

Glass Coffin Coffee Table Wife

She’d been married to a charmer

An enthusiastic embalmer

So when death claimed her/ he framed her

Laid her down/ took off her glasses

Preserved her with gases

Till death us do part

She’s now a work of art

With a hot mug mark

 

Inseparable in life/ inseparable in death

Invited round to meet the old ball and chain

Lift up your chips, sonny

She’s there-/ smiling squarely through the pane

In life/ she’d cooked all his meals

Now/ she’s been fitted with wheels

He pushes her to the supermarket-

Once more down the aisle

She doubles up as a shopping cart/ loaded down

with pies/ pasties/ pastries/ toasties/ tasties/ and tarts

She’s surprisingly little trouble to park

This work of art

With a hot mug mark

 

February/ a burglary

He awakes to find his DVD/ CD/ TV/ gone

And so is she

His taxidermy bride alive on the outside

Her absence highlights how the sun has dyed the carpet

He doesn’t report it to the police

Too inconsolable with grief

Broken-hearted/ for his clear departed

Months later/ he/ too/ dies

At the same time in the capital

A dead woman/ in a glass coffin

Scoops the Turner Prize

Taken in the dark/ displayed as objet d’art

Forever more/ a work of art

With a hot/ mug/ mark

CTW2

Do check out the full exhibition in Bristol if you can – and remember a corpse isn’t for life, it’s just for the funeral!

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