THERE IS A marvelous scene in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut where Tom Cruise confronts the dead body of a hooker in the morgue. Staring into her cold, pale face, Cruise seems to be searching for something beyond his ken. He is not merely identifying or examining her; he is using her lifeless corpse as a system wherein to ponder unanswerable questions about his own mortality.

This is all well and good for a character in an artsy film, but what about the rest of us? In the real world the dead are less thought-provoking and more of a nuisance. Our lives are busy and go-getting enough as it is; factor in the time and effort required to care for the recently deceased--the phone calls that must be placed, the funeral arrangements, the grief--and the task seems insurmountable. How much better if we could eradicate the dead, both as a physical presence and a painful memory; if the whole thing would just vanish into smoke, fade away, disappear.

This turns out to be entirely possible in our 21st-century paradise. No more sitting stiffly at the deathbed for three long, gloomy days or wandering around in mourning for a year; now the process can be left safely in the hands of others, and we can freely get on with our lives--which is what they would have wanted. Follow these simple instructions and before you know it, your life will seem as though you had never brushed with death in the first place.

So You've Found a Dead Body in Your Home

Call 911. The emergency response vehicle will arrive in due course, check for signs of life, and if your initial assessment was correct, pronounce the body dead.

Do you know the person?

IF NO, your problems are basically over. The police will want to examine the remains for evidence and you may be put through a few awkward questions, but if it becomes clear, say, that some vagrant broke into your cellar for a nap and keeled over from a heart attack, it will all be over soon.

IF YES, well, now it gets complicated.

Is there evidence of unlawful or suspicious circumstances, or did the person die in apparently good health without medical attention in the preceding 36 hours?

IF YES, then an autopsy is mandated. This will drag out the proceedings a bit, but on the plus side (provided you didn't commit murder) the medical examiner's office will arrange for the removal of the corpse from your home. Any personal items found on the deceased must be returned within 30 days of the inquest, so any lingering sense of unfinished business will only wait a month.

IF NO, you must take care of the body removal yourself.

Do you have a pre-arranged funeral home?

IF YES, give them a call. The home will arrive, pick up the deceased, dress and care for them, and place them in the container you have specified.

IF NO, get one. People die a lot--that and taxes, remember--so the selection is wide. Handy price guides can be obtained from the People's Memorial Association, 325-0489 (or; whether you want a $4,000 casket burial in Bellevue or a $550 cremation, these price guides will lead you there.

Is it necessary to clean up the scene (due to a violent death or badly decomposed body)?

IF YES, then it's best to hire a professional cleaning service. There are five companies in Seattle specializing in cleanups of death scenes; they can be reached via your funeral home or by contacting the King County Medical Examiner's Office (731-3232). Rates start at $500, with additional charges ranging from $200-$250 per hour. If the fee for a professional makes you consider renting a steam cleaner (around $100 for two days) and dealing with the mess yourself, you should reconsider. Think about it: the trauma of the scene, the difficulty in removing odor, and the very real danger of contacting a communicable disease. (This last concern prompted California to pass a law requiring that only professionals clean up after the dead.) Besides, not only will your homeowner's insurance probably cover the cleaning fee, James Groshon of J & B Cleaning assures me that practically everyone in the industry will accept a lesser payment if that is all you can afford.

After the physical remains of the death have been removed, you may still be haunted by memories and regrets. Are you religious?

IF YES, seek comfort and support from your church, synagogue, mosque, or temple.

IF NO, you can go three routes. You can seek prepackaged help: The caring funeral home conglomerate Service Corporation International (spanning 20 countries) has prepared a series of videos and booklets designed to assist you in your time of need. Check out their local affiliates at; I'm sure they'd be willing to share their information even if you're not a client.

Option number two is to try Prozac (much more gratifying than pesky long-term counseling). Hold the pills in your hand; they are soothing green and so tiny that your problems must be inconsequential to be readily soothed by such a minuscule capsule. Even before taking them you feel your problems begin to drift away.

The third solution, should you still (after trying options one and two) find it impossible to enjoy your life again, is to fly to the beaches of Honolulu ($568 round trip for one via Hawaiian Airlines).