Forever Yours

Move Over, ALCOR. Phoenix-based Preserve A Life wants to make sure the dearly departed are ready for their close-ups.

In the case of Mrs. Dunlop, he advised, she could be "mounted" in a seated position, so her family could enjoy her presence at family functions, or just watch Jay Leno with her. He also quietly advised that, even though it didn't seem possible as the family was grieving, there would be times when it would be inappropriate to have grandmother in plain view. During those times, her countenance could be stored in the hallway closet, since her legs could easily be adjusted to a standing position.

Indeed, Gloria says all these months later: "When we have friends over, friends who don't know about what we've done with Mother Dunlop, we put her out of sight for the evening. I know some people will think this is really weird, but it's been so comforting having her here with us. I think, if she could talk, she'd be pleased. Sometimes, it's almost like she never passed away."

Gloria admits that having a dead body in the house isn't for everybody, and it's not without small problems, outside the realm of what unknowing visitors might or might not think of the family's actions. Though Preserve A Life has by all accounts done a marvelous job of treating Mrs. Dunlop's skin, stretching it over a fiberglass model made to fit her proportions exactly, and inserting glass eyes, with the option of leaving the eyelids open or closed, there are occasional rips and tears that have to be daubed with a special putty from the Preserve A Life Home Repair Kit. Additionally, a lingering, musty smell sometimes hovers about Mrs. Dunlop, an odor technicians at Preserve A Life say has nothing to do with death, but is a natural product of the skin of seniors, referred to by some as "that old person smell." Gloria often leaves potpourri near Mrs. Dunlop's body, or simply uses Glade air freshener.

A Perserve A Life advertisement.
A Perserve A Life advertisement.
Perserve A Life CEO Bryce Cunningham: He sees dead 
people–and dollar signs.
Perserve A Life CEO Bryce Cunningham: He sees dead people–and dollar signs.

"The kids loved having Mother about," says Robert Braswell, an electrical engineer at Philips Semiconductors in Tempe. "I mean, it was great having her back after the funeral home had kept her for a couple of weeks, and then Preserve A Life took her for a month or so to work its magic. We didn't have to go into all the morbid details with the kids, since we knew she was coming back home. We at first just said, 'Granny's had a stroke, and she's gone to the hospital. She'll be a little slower and quieter than she was before.' Then, we decided we had to tell them the whole truth, but we could add that she would still be in the room with us in almost every way once she was back from the, uh, clinic. That it wouldn't be too much to believe that she was inside her very own skin as a lifelike spirit, even though she had technically passed on."

And it's a good thing that the Braswells came clean with the children for a couple of reasons. The kids, both honors students, would have figured things out once a less-animated Granny arrived back in their Ahwatukee home, and with a humidermied body in the house, accidents are bound to happen.

For instance, in early September, while Robert was out of town and Gloria was having the carpets cleaned, she leaned Mrs. Dunlop against the house in the backyard for the better part of a week, placing her under a tarpaulin.

"I was rushing around because school had just started and everyone was going in a different direction," she says. "You know how it is. Then I was all like, 'Where did I put Mother Dunlop? Oh, right, out back!' I probably shouldn't have sent Timmy back there to get her. But he was 12 and strapping for his age, and since all of Mother Dunlop's insides were removed during the Preserve A Life process, she's very light. I didn't think anything of it."

Unfortunately, there was nothing to prepare Tim for what awaited him under that covering. Seems Gloria had forgotten about the fact that the family's backyard is turned into a lake during irrigation, and the skin from one of Granny's feet had rotted away from the moisture. The other foot -- in fact, half the leg -- was gone. And just as Tim began to yell, Gloria saw the family's dog, Sparky, dragging something across the back lawn. It was Mrs. Dunlop's chewed-off appendage.

Gloria quickly dialed Preserve A Life's emergency number, and its technicians retrieved the body that evening. It was back in the Braswell home before Robert got back from Los Angeles 48 hours later. Though Gloria decided it was best to tell her husband what had happened to his mother, she could have gotten away with silence. He would never have been the wiser. Esther Dunlop was as good as new.

Though to some it may sound like the stuff of nightmares, a scene out of The Silence of the Lambs or a page from the bio of serial killer Ed Gein, execs at Preserve A Life ( assert that what they offer is just the "next big thing" in mortuary science. They say that theirs is the best of "post-life alternatives" to the old-fashioned funeral and traditional burial.

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