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Bury me Rite! (Right?)

To my dear family,

With the extended illness of my recently departed uncle, with my transition to “middle age,” with my mother’s sudden health anomaly, my thoughts keep coming back to what happens when I’m gone.  Not in an existential way, mind, you, I’m actually just noodling on basic mechanics: Whoops, sorry, I seem to have left a body lying out, probably ought to put that away or something.   Call it contingency planning.   Like I was thinking about who I could make an executor for my will and realized that  the people I trust with that task are also the people I’d feel so horrible with burdening.  Also, I’m thinking I need to get some documentation put together to make the disposal process a little bit easier should the need arise.  Including a formal will, and an inventory of the estate so that my executor just has to log onto my bank account and make the payments on the list before closing things down.

My sweet mother looking way creepier than she ever shouldGoing back to that body thing, since the estate will kind of take care of itself, one way or another.  There are rules, and there are defaults.  But I have a very fresh awareness that a lot of the effort of a funeral seems to go to satisfying wildly conflicting views on what is tasteful, and what is acceptable, and what is respectful.  Knowing full well that every possible choice includes some cluster of aunts clucking disapprovingly.  And the biggest impression I get, supported by the reading I’ve done, is as gentle as they are, the funeral homes are capitalizing on the question of what to do by upselling and extending, driving effort and ceremony and money into the name of “Honouring the departed in the way she would have wanted.”

I can’t change the pressure.  I can’t change the desire to do right by me.  (I can’t even fault the funeral industry for the upsell) What I can do, though, is to explain how I see this whole subject and what I prefer, so that whoever is stuck with trying to do right by me actually knows the answer to that question.  And to explain my preferences, I have to start by acknowledging that I already know some of what I’m going to say will be objectionable to people who love me.  So I have to start my declaration here:

If any of this has started to matter, then I am dead, which gives me a license to be utterly unromantic about what’s left behind.  You, my loved ones, are the people who may still be in the process of saying goodbye to what I can regard as an ungainly ragdoll made of biological waste.  So what I want is secondary, what you need is way more important.  I’m dead.  Only place I get a vote is Chicago.

Feel any better?  Good.  Here’s my view from this side of the other side…

Let me start with a bit of philosophical perspective:  I’m an introvert and I’m frugal and I’m a pragmatist.  I don’t much like fuss or attention and I don’t like throwing away money, especially on fuss or attention for me.  I’m also a Catholic man from a Catholic family, and I’ll do the research around this, but where it’s possible to adapt my wishes to Catholic practice, I’d like to do so.  But that’s a secondary objective, honestly, because if I can get my body disposed of to my tastes, I don’t care so much if the meat ain’t kosher, so to speak.

Donate what’s useful.  It’s actually something important to me, so please try to take this seriously.  At a minimum, donate my organs, that wish should already be associated to my driver’s license.  And don’t hold back for cosmetic reasons, I don’t care what the remainder looks like, I would rather do some good.  In fact, my first preference is donation of a more wholesale kind:  I want my body donated as a medical school cadaver.

Loved ones, you won’t have heard me talk about this much so this request may surprise, in addition to upsetting.  But a few years ago, I happened to read a letter from a medical student to a gross anatomy cadaver.  It was thoughtful, it was respectful, and it was grateful in a way that makes me want to answer.  It would be a tremendous honour to inspire that kind of sentiment from some distant future doctor, but even without personal gratitude, it makes my body useful, rather than a (sorry) dead-weight burden for my family.  Even more than that, it’s a choice that will contribute to the education of at least one doctor, probably more, who in their turn will affect and improve and maybe even save lives.  Many lives, each day, each year, each life time.  It makes me useful even at the end, and I like that very much.  And of course it beats the hell out being fertilizer in a box.

I find the idea of a coffin in a cemetery to be just wrong for me.  I’ve always thought so, to the point that I surprised at how much comfort I found in the funeral service for my uncle, and the cemetery we laid him to rest in.  It makes me happy to know he’s laid to rest in a solemn and beautiful place.  I’ve also enjoyed the walks I’ve taken through cemeteries, reading the names and spans of people past.

But people reading my name don’t make me alive.  They’re strangers making up stories about a stranger whose name they saw.  And anyway, I’m private; I don’t like the showy stuff.  And I hate nametags, passionately.  (I wear my work ID badges clipped together so there’s no exposed picture).  So I don’t find any attraction to a headstone, and I’m okay with being put in the ground, but then I have to insist that the correct choice for me is the cheapest box that will do the job because anything else is burying money in the ground that will never come back.  I’d rather you took the money for the affectations and have a party or a vacation or something.

So really, if I can’t be donated entire, then I’d really like whatever is left to be cremated.  And then, this is absolutely critical, I want my ashes disposed of.  Do not keep my remains on a shelf, I beg you.  If there’s one thing out of all of this that you take away as important to me, it’s that.  I’m dead, and making a mausoleum of your home, dear loved one, is not something I want anything to do with.  I understand that there can be grief, and there may be a need for processing.  But putting a loved one’s remains on your shelf is the ultimate in clutter; it’s too easy to procrastinate dealing with, and guilt and ceremony make the barrier to throwing it away likely insurmountable.

If it’s my call in the cremation scenario, then I’d strongly suggest you let the facility dispose of the ashes, but if there’s a need to scatter me, then I’m going to ask for somewhere that isn’t water but has a line of site to water.  Not for me because as much as I like water, what’s being dumped ain’t me.  But if you need a place to think of me, that connection might be nice.

The connection, the idea of visiting, is probably the biggest appeal of the cemetery option.  Except when comedy seems to require an urn of powdered person, most media treatments of death are either the interment, or else they’re someone standing near a grave talking to their person.  And I understand that drive.  The first time I visited after his passing, I needed to make a trip to pay my respects at my grandfather’s resting place.

But here’s my thought.  You could put my body in a hole with a headstone, and it gives you a fixed place to visit.  Or you can take advantage of the mystery of death.  I’m non-corporeal if I’m anything at all.  I can be anywhere, and regardless, the memory of me lives in your head.  So instead of having a cemetery obligation hanging over your head, why don’t we make it informal.  Think of me in your living room when you want my company and we can talk there.  I’m kind of weird about my personal space to begin with, so it’d be more comfortable for me anyway.  I promise not to notice if your socks have holes in them, and you don’t have to vacuum.   (And since my body isn’t important to this exercise, might as well donate the whole thing, see?)

Last, don’t worry about me.  I want you to live, and live well.  I want you to be happy and to thrive and to be busy.  Even if it means you’re too busy to think of me.  I’m a solitary (dead) guy, and I won’t be offended or love you less or doubt your care.  So don’t ever feel guilty for not thinking of me.  Don’t ever feel guilty for moving on.  You can’t betray me by leaving me behind.

So that’s how I see things, at least today.  Maybe it’ll change over time.  Someone who read a draft of this;

With love, your eventually late


P.S.  If at any point after my deceasement I should happen to say “Brains” to you, please consider all of the above to be moot and aim for the head.  And sorry in advance for any gnawing.

P.P.S.  Actually, maybe we’ll just make that exception clause apply if I say *anything* after my deceasement.

P.P.P.S.  I know, too much <i>The Walking Dead</i>

Next steps:

  • Research Catholic rites for donation of the body (or just for when the body is lost if donation Catholic rites don’t formally cover donation)
  • Research process for donating a cadaver
  • Complete Estate Inventory
  • Complete Will
  • Develop transition plan for work – For me, self-employed, it means levering me out of the CEO chair or my company which is a legally separate entity from me and therefore a complicated extra on the Estate.

Posted in life, me, Sunil.

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One Response

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  1. Cat says

    I ought to write a similar letter to my family. They will probably have no idea what to do with my useless body. Love you.

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