Did you know that when a person dies, their hair and nails will continue to grow? It’s true, long after that last breath is drawn, the hair keeps coming out, the fingernails and toenails keep get longer and longer. I always tell this to people and everyone’s like, “That’s not true, that’s just a myth.” One time some serious looking guy tried telling me that it was about the body shriveling up, thus giving the illusion of more hair and nails.
But that guy clearly never saw a real dead person. I remember when my grandfather passed away, he died on a Tuesday, and they took him to the morgue and my parents met with the funeral home director. Friday rolled around and all of the family members had to show up early for the wake. At first, we walked in and we were like, are we at the wrong place? Because the guy in the coffin, he had a beard. And this wasn’t just a little stubble either, I’m talking a full-on beard.
It was only after covering up the bottom part of the guy’s face could we even recognize it as the body of our grandfather. “Sorry folks,” the director came in with a pair of clippers, “You know how it is, right? The hair and nails, they just keep on growing. I just shaved him an hour ago, but, well, just take a look.” And that’s when I noticed the nails too, they were like half an inch past the fingertips.
While he was busy making grandpa look nice, one of my aunts told my brothers and me, “I hope you kids know to save all of your nail clippings when you’re done.” And we were like, what? “Why should we save them?” my brother asked, and my aunt replied, “Because if you have any enemies out there, an easy way to get revenge is to collect all of your old nail clippings. They can take them to a lab, sequence your genome, and depending on how much they’re willing to spend, they can manufacture all sorts of personalized poisons that would only be toxic to you.”
And right as I was about to object, the funeral guy came over, “You’d be surprised how many bodies I have to deal with that met exactly that fate.” I’m telling you, I know it sounds unbelievable, but the director told us that it’s virtually impossible to distinguish homemade fingernail poisons from more natural causes. “Why don’t you go to the police?” I asked, but he dismissed my suggestion, telling me that there wasn’t enough hard evidence to go on. And besides, what if the police were in on it?
“So what are you supposed to do with all of those old nails?” my brother asked. “I used to save them in a jar, and when that jar got full, I’d take it deep into the woods and bury it. But I haven’t done that in a while, because the last time I was out there, I was almost attacked by a bear.”
One of my uncles was at the periphery of the conversation, but mention of the bear was enough to get him involved. “You know what you’re supposed to do if you run into a bear, right kids?” My uncle told us, “You lay on the floor and cover yourself up with leaves, and then you stay perfectly still, you don’t even move a muscle.”
“Exactly!” the funeral director told me, “And I was lucky enough to get away.” And I always thought that you were supposed to make loud noises or something, that if you stay still you’ll just get mauled. But apparently there was so much I didn’t know about bears. He continued, “Unfortunately, that trick only works once. After a bear is fooled into confusing your scent with the earth’s, he becomes immune to the deception in the future. That’s why I can’t go back.”
“Well what are you going to do with those nails that you just clipped from my grandfather?” I asked.
“I take them and I save them for future funerals. I’ve found that if you stuff lots of fingernails into the mouth cavity, it seems to slow the post-mortem growth that I was talking about earlier. Unfortunately for you folks, I was running low on clippings, so that’s why your granddad over there looked so unkempt this morning.”
So there it is, right from the funeral director’s mouth. Next time you hear some smarty-pants try to debunk the whole hair and nails thing, don’t believe them, because they do keep growing. Also, that whole business about not breathing when you drive past a cemetery? Keep holding your breath. While you’re not guaranteed to inhale a lost soul hanging around a graveyard, you might, it happens every once in a while. Better safe than sorry, right?