Saturday, January 07, 2006

Last Rites

The question of disposal of human remains is unpleasant, but we all have to face it at some time. Taking care of your disposal after you die is best done as early as you can. Just like making wills and living wills, though, such preparations are far too often left until too late.

After my mother died, my father and I had a long conversation about this, and we found that we agree on many points that others will find scandalous, at the very least. The largest issue is that a body is not a person. Upon their death, a person's essence (whether you call it soul, spirit, ka, consciousness, or whatever) leaves the body. What is left is disposable. What purpose is served by preserving this body, putting it in a very expensive decorative container, and burying it in the ground, where it will occupy a piece of land forever? That does the decedant no service at all. Funerals and burials are not for the benefit of the deceased, but for the living.

My mother's wish was for us to stick her body in a pine box and put it in a hole somewhere. That is, unfortunately, impossible these days, and she will call some people to account for it in the Hereafter. Poor fellows, I would hate to be them. As it turns out, the very minimum casket, vault, etc. runs somewhere in the neighborhood of $6,000 US. Death has become a racket, with regulations and laws, and a lot of people minding other people's business. But, then, that's how the world works these days, whether I like it or not.

I decided years ago, that I will not suffer this fate. No matter how futile my life may turn out to be, at least I can serve some purpose in death. My current wishes are to be creamated. Whoever is in charge of such things will then take the ashes (not my ashes, I will be long gone by then), drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway until they see a spot that feels right, and consign my mortal remains to the mercy of the wind and rain. At least I can fertilize the mountain laurel and wild azaleas. There is the possibility, though, that I may change my mind and will my body to one of the "Body Farms" that have spring up over the past few years. That would be a benefit to mankind.

"But what about those who want to remember you?" Just let go. Get on with your lives. When my life is over, I'll be gone. Mourn, grieve, find acceptance and move on. If I have not done anything memorable by then, then just let my memory join those of the great mass of humanity in anonymity. Visiting a grave strikes me as not conducive to healing and has some disturbing connotations with regard to beliefs in the afterlife and attitudes toward dead bodies.

We have to face the fact that we're all mortal. We will all die. It's part of life. The least we can do is plan ahead and make things a little easier on those we leave behind.


At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intriguing topic! You may want to check out Anne Frasier's post on post mortem photography. Our approach to death sure has changed over the years.

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Carter said...

That is a very disturbing photo. Thanks for the link.

There are a lot of funerary practices that we no longer follow, like laying out the deceased in the parlor. Things change, sometimes fo the better, sometimes not.

At 8:09 PM, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

It's not allowed to just strew the ashes somewhere here. But a sea funeral is possible, and that's what I want. I've loved the sea all my life, so it's a good place to end up.

My mother's remains were cremated, too, and buried under a tree in a cemetary that looks more like a park. She'd have loved the place.

At 9:51 AM, Blogger Carter said...

This is a case where I think it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. When I know I'm not going to like the answer, I tend to not ask the question.

There are a lot of things to like about burial at sea. The symbolism of returning to the sea that gave us all birth is powerful.


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