Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

August 22, 2012

Why are we so uneasy about death?

By Keith Kappes - Publisher

Aug. 22, 2012 — My grandmother, who loved old sayings and lived to be 100, described death as someone “passing over the slick log.”

When I asked her what that meant, she asked if I had ever stepped on an underwater log while crossing a creek.

I told her that I tried it once, lost my footing and was swept downstream but luckily it was a shallow creek.

She nodded her head knowingly and said:

“That’s what I mean. Passing over the slick log means you’re a goner.”

Those who have served in the military know that GI’s regularly speak of “buying the farm” when someone is killed.

My research indicates that the saying most likely started in World War I.

When a soldier was killed in battle, the death benefit or GI life insurance of several thousand dollars was sufficient for his surviving family members to purchase a farm. Hence, the dead soldier literally "bought the farm."

My father was very squeamish about death. Mom used to tease him that the worst thing she could do to him would be to die in bed beside him during the night and have him wake up and find her body.

I was about eight years old when a family friend died in our little town. Those were the days when loved ones were brought home to lie in state in the living room and relatives sat up all night as part of the funeral ritual.

Friends came to call and always brought food and drink to help their neighbors deal with the grief.

Often the men would go out back to pull a cork or two and console each other by sharing funny stories about the person.

We went to the home of the deceased to pay our respects and, being a curious lad even at that young age, I asked if I could reach into the casket and touch the hand of the departed.

Dad didn’t object but mom said I wouldn’t like it. I gently touched the dead man’s hand and recoiled, surprised by the coldness and rigidity.

It was hours later that same night when I awoke from a nightmare in which I knew I had felt that dead man’s cold hand on my face. I was petrified and ran to mom and dad for comfort.

Years later, I realized that if a cold hand had actually touched my face, it most likely came from my teasing older brother in the upper bunk.

To this day, I still believe that dead men tell no tales…and touch no faces.