My Father’s Lost and Found Corpse

What happens when your mother refuses to bury your father

Catherine Prendergast
Human Parts

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Photo: Freaktography/Getty Images

II have tried and failed many times to imagine the exact words the funeral director selected when he called my mother to persuade her to pick up her husband’s body. The funeral had ended weeks before. And yet, there my father’s remains remained. I’m sure funeral homes must often call patrons to pick up something left on their premises — an umbrella, a smaller bouquet that escaped notice by the bereaved. Likely, the odd jacket. Perhaps the funeral director began the call to my mother in this familiar vein of small property recovery: “Mrs. Prendergast, this is a courtesy call to alert you that you have left something here.”

But in this case, there had been no mistake. My mother knew exactly where she had left her husband. She just had no intention of picking him up. She had read my father’s burial plan and, well, she didn’t like it. She told the funeral director to call my father’s brother and then hung up the phone.

My father would have hated this fuss. He hated having his photo taken. He rarely made eye contact with strangers. An astronomer, he hid in his office doing equations and smoking cigarettes, his mind on the evolution of galaxies and the monumental force of black holes. He wrote about catastrophes, but only as they related to…

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Catherine Prendergast
Human Parts

Professor at the University of Illinois and author of The Gilded Edge (Dutton Press, Oct. 2021). Representation: Anna Sproul-Latimer of Neon Literary.