The difference between you and it

Charles Cowling

Jonathan Taylor, the mercurial genius who from time to time gilds this dull little blog with his inspired intelligence, glorious whimsy and beauty of spirit, once observed that the time between death and the funeral gives people the time to get the heads around the difference between ‘you and it’ – between a living person and a dead thing from which the spirit (if any) has flown.

For many professionals working at the interface between life and death, ‘it-ness’ can happen pretty fast. “That’s not a person, it’s a thing.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that – so long as it isn’t attended by a coarsening of the emotions which manifests as cruelty or carelessness.

It can happen. This is from yesterday’s Birmingham Post.

Birmingham’s largest hospital trust has launched an investigation into its private porter services after dead bodies were left for hours on wards.

Lung patient Sarah Stevenson, from Small Heath, described in March the “horrendous stench” she was forced to endure on Ward 9 at Heartlands after three patients died on the same day and they were not removed for hours.

Whistleblower David Whitsey, a porter at the hospital for nine years … claimed lack of training led to the body of patient Dora Parker, aged 81, from Kitts Green, being dropped while lifted on to a trolley shortly after she died in 2003, causing a gash on her head to the shock of daughter-in-law Patricia Parker.

Read the whole sorry story here. (Hat-tip to Tony Piper for this)

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Charles Cowling
11 years ago

The important thing is to steal only from the best. When we lose the appetite for plagiarism we have arrived at dead-stopped complacency.

11 years ago

Well, Charles, thanks, and good, if it works use it – there is an awful lot of unnecessary proprietorialness (?that’s not quite right, is it?) in this business, seems to me, and as Brecht pointed out, even Shakespeare was a magpie…I steal like mad, shamelessly, even (with due warning to her) from someone I’ve been mentoring.

11 years ago

Two points come to mind Charles, both by-the-way, I guess:
1.) Yours is not a dull little blog, as I’m sure you must know (least, I hope you do) and
2) Jonathan is indeed a mercurial genius.
Oh. and
3)His concept of him/it illuminated my entire understanding of what funerals are actually for and what they should do for people. And that’s nothing to do with the objectifying of a person, against which DM rightly protests, it’s do, I feel, with mourners leaving behind a body and taking forward a life.

Death Matters
11 years ago

This objectification of a person parallels what I called “Intellectual understanding of death without emotional awareness – the funeral director’s illusion.” in my Medicine for Life page (

It leads to a partial and therefore unimpressive (in the literal sense) experience of death. Quite the opposite of how death should impress us….