A Modest Request

To: The Distinguished and Honorable Alumni of the Lazarus Institute of Funerary Education
From: Office of Advancement
Date: We Aren’t Psychics (See below: You’ll see what we mean)
Subject: Annual Donation Drive

 Greetings from L.I.F.E!

 What a glorious time to be alive, especially here at the Lazarus Institute of Funerary Education. As you are surely aware, L.I.F.E. students are thriving. Our graduation and job placement rates have never been higher: 45 of the 46 students who graduated last spring found gainful employment within six months of tossing their tassels to the left. They continue the trend of providing high quality, end-of-life care to our recently expired, a decades-old trend that keeps on delivering to us the most pleasant surprises.

Take Rudolph “the Red-Nosed Drainer” Crain for example. Rudolph, class of ’59, recently shared with us a most encouraging anecdote about his professional life. He revealed that, in 1963, fortune shined upon him when he was named to the team that prepped JFK for burial. Rudolph wanted to tell us much earlier, but Johnny Lawman had sealed the info and threatened him with everlasting internment should he squeal. Thank heavens he’s finally squealing! The feds also decided against sending a Stage 4 lung cancer patient to the clink AND we have yet another success story to add to our brochure! It’s a win-win for all those involved! Our favorite detail of Rudolph’s story—he was the lucky one to receive the privilege of sticking JFK’s carotid. Even Lee Harvey Oswalt didn’t do that. Amazing!

“Just watching the Leader of the Free World’s blood rush from his body was the most exciting moment of my life,” Rudolph said. “Second to graduating from L.I.F.E., of course.”

Fantastic!

Rudy’s story is just one of hundreds we receive each year. Our founder, Professor Manfred Pallopalot, or Pro Pal to so many of you, could not be any prouder. Though 106, he’s continued to fight the good fight in his own battle with brain cancer. News like Rudolph’s brightens his days ever so much. He’s continued to lead our recruitment campaign and has even sat in on a number of interviews with some of our best prospects, quelling any trepidations they may have—he is a beacon we should all follow.

Which brings us to why we are reaching out to you today.

Despite Pro Pal’s best efforts, L.I.F.E. is in a bit of a pickle, financially-speaking. Our most affluent donors have met their mortal ends in recent years—after all, L.I.F.E. Rule No. 1: Everyone dies—and cadaver costs have risen exorbitantly. We are now paying over three-thousand dollars for that which once cost fifty. 

Some in L.I.F.E.’s hierarchy have suggested we switch from organics to reusable, plastic cadavers (or can’tdavers, as many of us call them), which cost five times as much but can be reused long after each of us becomes that which the rubber mimics. Despite the insistence of several faculty members that this is the best route to go, we in Advancement feel that there is nothing quite like human skin and bone and muscle and fat. No polyurethane vein or rubberized artery can accurately imitate the stubborn swell of varicose or the inelasticity of arteriosclerosis. What can a dummy thoracic teach us of dehydration? No sinew? Then no thanks! 

And that’s only half of the problem that the reusable bodies would create. We also have aesthetics to worry over—our L.I.F.E. artists currently paint canvases of varying texture and pigmentation. Humans are not homogenous creatures, and though the savings of a single plastic cadaver is nigh undeniable, we would have to purchase thousands just to achieve the random variance L.I.F.E.ers have seen the last several decades.

Dear alumnus, we in L.I.F.E.’s Advancement will not abide this change—we need to remain ardent in our demand for flesh. This is why we need your help.

We spend nearly $1 million on cadavers each school year. That number alone might make you want to keel over and die—and then join our cadaver ranks :)— but we have several more numbers to add to this message. Our old, and admittedly antiquated, strategy was to raise tuition costs, but we fear that raising tuition yet again will stagnate our enrollment numbers. Many of you who graduated from L.I.F.E. paid a mere $5,000 for your two-year stay on our campus. Today’s students pay $45,000. Will they pay $50k, $60k, a hundred grand? Our researchers say the answer is a vehement No!. But if we have to keep leeching funds from other coffers such as payroll and maintenance to pay for escalating decomposition fees, we will have to ignore what our researchers tell us and jack up the prices. If we do that, what’s next? Should we pour gas on our used cadavers and light them up in the middle of the quad to save on proper cremation expenses? 

If we don’t find a solution soon, we will have to close our doors forever. To seal up the tomb, so to speak. That is the last thing we want. We are a place for optimists, for potential, for eternal kindness. A funeral director needs to be empathetic, congenial, and tasteful, deft with both fingertips and spreadsheets, pragmatic, yet flexible. How will future undertakers hone those skills without L.I.F.E.’s guidance? Should we leave them to the ham-fistedness that our competitors promote within their curricula? God no! We may charge more than others, but we can hold our heads high when we are laying others down.

You know this. You are a part of this. You will forever be one of us—you are ashes to ashes, dust to trust!

So please consider donating your body to L.I.F.E.

Money would be nice and we certainly would not reject any monetary offers you send our way, but what we really desire is skin. Bone. Brain. Blood. These are the desires of our flesh.

Most of you are, fingers crossed, miles and miles away from arriving at death’s door, but it’s never too early to begin planning for when that times come. You’ll need to get lots of things in order before then, so why not let L.I.F.E. take one worry off your plate? All you need to do is sign the enclosed contract and send it back to us as soon you can. Don’t worry about the postage—we’ve got it covered! Upon your demise, L.I.F.E. will make all the arrangements necessary to have your body transported to campus. As an added bonus, we’ve included a coupon that entitles your loved ones to five percent off the use of our mortuary for future usage. There’s not even an expiration on this coupon. How could there be?!?!?!?!?!

Just think, dear alum, dear friend, of how much you’ll be giving back to L.I.F.E.
To show you how committed we are to this drive, Pro Pal, the Red-Nosed Drainer, and each of us in Advancement (all 25 of us) have signed our contracts. L.I.F.E. is already $81,000 in the black! Huzzah!

 Will you join us? Do you want to see L.I.F.E. go on? We sincerely hope so. 

 Remember: Without L.I.F.E., death wouldn’t be the same.

 Sincerely,

 The L.I.F.E. Advancement Office


Matt Muilenburg teaches at the University of Dubuque. His prose has been featured in Southern Humanities Review, Storm Cellar, Superstition Review, 3Elements Review, South85 Journal, and others. Matt holds an MFA from Wichita State University and lives in Iowa near the Field of Dreams movie site.