I started my journey, at 18 years of age, working as an orderly with geriatric patients, in Building One of the Pine Rest Christian Hospital in Cutlerville, Michigan. It didn’t take me to long to decide that working with old people was not something I wanted to do for very long and after graduating from psychiatric nursing school I ask if I could work in the Children’s Retreat. One needs a lot of patients working with old people… they are stubborn, at times cantankerous, and always insisting on doing things their way, even when “their way” usually gets them in trouble. Strange how Life goes… I suppose that is how a lot of people would describe me today.
It was the weekend past and most of our Khmer staff had gone home. A motorcycle came into our compound and one of the community ladies informed me that her sister was dying and because the family was poor they were wondering if they could use our crematorium to burn her remains when she died. The sister had stayed with us for a time and so I told her it would not be a problem. I grabbed some brooms and several of the children followed me to the crematorium and we gave it a good cleaning. At one time the place was used a lot but in recent years only occasionally. I put several pieces of cardboard down on the bottom of the burner and soaked it with gasoline, because we only had small pieces of charcoal and I was afraid they would drop through the rungs of the oven before igniting the wood. It was Sunday before she died but fortunately everything was ready when they finally came with the body.
I stayed in the background for most of the service, but when it came time to put the body into the oven, I stepped forward because it was obvious they didn’t know what they were doing. For many years I did the cremations myself and so I know just what must be done.
The wood they brought was wet and I was afraid it would not ignite quickly and so I threw more gasoline on the top of the casket thinking the other gasoline I had added two days before would be dry. I closed the door and had everyone back away. Ordinarily we would light the fire from the bottom on the other side of the crematorium, but because it had been prepared two days prior I decided not to do it that way and, against their recommendations, lit it from the small opening in the oven door.
I have never seen the crematorium before, from a lying down position, with my beard and face engulfed in flames. Several people rushed to my aid and put out the fire as they helped me to my feet. It did’t take me very long at all to realize what everyone else had already known and had tried to tell me.
I stopped believing in a god entity a long while back and no longer believe in demons either… but I still believe in Angels and am so very grateful for the ones I have all around me… who are willing to put up with a stubborn, at times cantankerous, old man who just doesn’t know when its time to quit.
Wayne Dale Matthysse