Category Archives: Death

When You’re Gone

Recently, I read another fascinating essay online about how to deal with the organizational aspects of one’s passing, death, or demise.

The author’s contention is that we look at our mortality from the wrong perspective. He pointed out that if you are thinking at all about your mortality, you are doing more than many people. His thesis is that you should practice empathy when contemplating the organization of life after you are no longer a part of it.

Instead of focusing your energy in a traditional sense, his idea is to remind us that we should focus on the person we love the most in this world when making plans, organizing and documenting. We should make our plans with our most loved person in mind, under the assumption that this person will have to personally deal with our passing. Our cherished loved one will have to either bear the burden of our lack of planning, or be at ease because we planned our death in such a way as to make it incredibly easy for them.

It sounds like great practice at imagining our lives no longer being filled by us, as well as to refocus our energies on being less selfish in our attitudes about our passing.

No Will? Cremation

I would like to establish a centralized system where people could indicate their preferences regarding death – and they chose not to do so, society would determine the course of action for everyone not making the choices. 

As for burial versus cremation, if you die without having expressed your wishes, everything would default to cremation.

If you don’t take the time to register your wishes, as well as setting aside the finances to pay for your specific choices, you should be cremated. Lack of doing so would constitute an agreement to be cremated. Dragging your feet about it or superstitious about planning your death? Sorry, we decide for you: cremation.

Unlike everyone else, I would figure out a way to let people smarter than me establish a database for everyone. Each person would be able to document their wishes regarding “do not resuscitate,” and living will-related decisions, whether they wish to be cremated, buried, and the general circumstances and details for either choice. Each person would indicate how their choices are to be paid for upon their death. Everyone would also be able to streamline much of the will process by making choices or delineating their choices on the database. This might anger lawyers and others whose livelihood is affected by simplification, but these are changes that should happen regardless of economic impact.

Any lack of clear indication about your wishes after death defaults to cremation. Lack of the ability to pay would allow for our tax dollars to put you to rest without financial debt or family stress. I think that it would be beneficial to our society if everyone could be guaranteed a decent cremation in the absence of an expensive and elaborate burial. I think that over time a lot of people would opt for cremation once they noticed that it didn’t cause the earth to spin off its axis or the universe to implode. The financial appeal would be obvious for anyone who has ever suffered when someone they loved died and had to face they economic difficulty of it.

We are all going to die. I think we should have systems in place to encourage and require people to at least express their general inclinations so as to avoid the confusion and stress of it all when we die.

Economy Causes Cremation to Be More Popular

Another news story today indicating that cremation is finally getting really popular. Even if it is due to the economy, it’s great news.

I like it when society comes around to my way of thinking.   : )

Cremation is almost always a better choice. The only downside is that the industry might use it as an excuse to creatively jack up the price to make even more money. But that’s because funeral homes need to focus more on present services rather than hardware. I can easily think of several ways to make more money.

Hopefully, the stigma of cremation people used to have will subside – forever.

People You Despise Are Going to Outlive You

The title of this post seems rather obvious. But it’s not. Being around so much personal death in the last year has beaten this into my head.

You know that person that just drives you nuts to think about? She could be the one who seems holier-than-thou at church. Or he could be the guy who does no work, gossips, and then acts like everyone is out to get him.

These people will probably outlive you. They might publicly claim that it is a shame to hear of your death. But, secretly, there are those people who will internally rejoice in your passing or have feelings of relief that you are no longer sharing oxygen with them on this planet.

And that’s okay in the scheme of things.

I think this is absolutely true for almost everyone. I really do – and it’s probably unavoidable.

You should take a moment and think of the person you most dislike and visualize this person sneering at you after you are gone. It won’t make you feel better, but it will give you a glimpse of the utter futility in wasting your life or worrying about people and things beyond your control.

09272013 Funeral Viewings

Please forgive me as I write about my ideas and personal viewpoints. None of us agree on much of anything in this modern world. This blog is to share what’s going on in my head, not to lash out or make anyone defend their own heartfelt emotions or ideas…

Each of us is allotted a set number of years, weeks, months, hours, days and minutes.

During those millions of minutes, we all have an opportunity to share our selves and our lives with everyone around us, both with those we love and appreciate and those we merely tolerate in the background of our lives.

It’s up to us to succeed or fail in adding meaning and purpose to each encounter with our fellow human beings. We can talk face-to-face, on the phone, via email, or through pictures. Now, more than at any point in human development, we can maintain contact with anyone we want to.

Although I’ve said so many different ways, I simply don’t “get” funeral viewings. I’ll grant most people the exception that it became tradition and therefore lingers as a tradition as a result. But the mere idea of preservation and display of someone’s body for viewing after death is irrational and weird to me. All who know me agree that I am in no way disgusted or bothered by seeing a corpse. It’s just not something that bothers me like it does many people. Without trying to offend anyone, I can relate to someone’s wish to see someone immediately after death and before embalming and preparation. That is somehow natural and understandable to me. The aspect of another person processing another person’s body for display is what seems anachronistic and alien to me.

For christians or those believing in an afterlife, the body should almost be forgotten in one’s grief. If it is truly just a vessel for one’s soul, I can’t understand either the expense or process that lies behind the viewing tradition. Our memories and feelings are still very much with us.

For all of the funerals I’ve been involved with in the last few years, no one wanted a viewing. Yet, all of them except one were subjected to being viewed after preparation and embalming. Their wishes were not honored. And yes, I know that funerals are for the living and to allow them to let go of their loves ones.

If someone truly wishes for a viewing, this decision is weird to me. But to have a viewing for someone who had specified that they don’t want one and to perform a viewing anyway is especially troubling for me. I know that tradition and expectations are difficult things to deal with but each person should have the final vote, if possible.

I would ask only that anyone involved in a funeral take a long look at ‘why’ you might vote in favor of a viewing. 

Living Wills or Healthcare Power of Attorney

It’s that time again, the time when I ask everyone if they have a living will or power of attorney in the event of a tragedy or emergency.

Almost without fail, the answer is ‘no.’

Without one, you are going to be at the whim of whomever is around at the time. It probably won’t be the person you trust the most, the doctor you like, or your best friend. It will likely be the sister you loathe, or the mother who abandoned you fifteen years ago in another violent fit of rage.

(Sidenote: In a society which incorporates organ donation with the ability to drive, I would like to know why we don’t have a default system in place for living wills and all similar tools to help us live and die as we wish.)

Seeing families argue, sometimes with great abandon and anger, over the guilt-filled issue of whether someone should be put on life support, be administered CPR or any other critical question has only hardened my opinion further.

Here’s the secret: most people want NO extraordinary efforts to save them if they are older or if they are so physically damaged that they will never live a normal life. Our fear of death or disability is so entrenched that it clouds our ability to make decisions in advance of the need. While most people don’t wish to be put on life support with almost no hope of recovery, their guilt almost universally makes them unable to say so when they are deciding for their loved ones.

We prolong our loved ones lives, praying and hoping for a miracle, most of time while knowing that they would prefer to be let go. In many cases, some of us would rather be ‘medicated’ into a relaxed death, even though we might survive in the strictest sense of the word.

There is no shame in letting a person die as they wish.

The shame is that so many of us haven’t taken a moment to ensure than no one has to stress about what to do with us as medical emergencies happen. If my head is smashed in and I’m in a coma or brain dead, doctors might be able to save me. But at what cost? I’m just one human being among billions. People will miss me. But I would rather them miss me at the end of a normal run of life, not at the long, torturous end of a medially-prolonged trauma.

Dealing With Our Mortality

While etiquette and courtesy demand an all-inclusive list of “thank yous” to each every person who has brought food, flowers or favor, I would ask that we throw that convention out the window. Most people I know who go through the death of a loved one are trying to avoid drowning in life. Factor in the supposed requirement of “thank yous” and the potential for stress, guilt and ruined future relationships increases dramatically. If someone has forgotten to thank you for something you have done, especially following a death, please consider yourself lucky that you aren’t the one who experienced the loss. If you care about the person grieving at all, you will ‘forgive’ them immediately with no further thought or comment about the supposed injustice done to you by the lack of an appropriate thank you.  If you help a person following a death, please consider your act, gift, or assistance to be reward and acknowledgement enough.  While it is true that a grieving person should lean on family for assistance with mundane details, I ask that you step back and assume that grief is almost killing the person who is suffering. The family and friends should be more focused on keeping grief from overwhelming their loves ones. The endless tasks and details of life have their place and I would hope that everyone could try to keep these things in proper perspective. We are all just renting space on the face of this planet. It will one day be our passing keeping our friends and family from moving joyously forward. Let the non-essentials fade to the background and allow shared moments with family and friends take precedence.

This post isn’t about the philosophical meanderings of what ‘it means,’ or even what is important.

Most of our lives are spent with the mundane, trivial aspects of life. More so than the epic moments, the quiet moments experienced minute to minute tend to become our lives and define us. It’s not the shouts; rather, it is the whispers which fill our lives with love, hope, and meaning. A quiet “I love you” when you make eye contact while washing the dishes, the smile of a child laughing at someone ridiculous, or even a shared eye roll at some minor stupidity constantly witnessed in our modern lives: these things are the bulk of our lives, not the proud majestic Kodak moments. 

For those who haven’t experienced horrible loss or the incremental loss of someone you love due to illness, it is hard to imagine what it is like on the other side of the fence. Words as always don’t encapsulate either the agony or the ecstasy of being pushed toward coming to terms with the end.

When news reaches our ears of the passing or impending passing of someone once dear to us, our heart swells, as we don’t like the reminder that life proceeds whether we are here to mock it or not. One day, it will soon be upon us to face it, without opportunity to veto or delay its arrival.

While the temptation to overload someone who is dying is almost insurmountable, each of us needs to stop for a moment and ponder what it must be like for not only the person dying but for those who are closest to them. The urge is to immediately reach out, flood the phones with emails, texts, and calls.

Please give those who are caring for the dying the benefit of the doubt if they try to slow down the barrage of visitors, phone calls, texts, and social media. If you are a friend or family member, try to devise a strategy so that those closest aren’t being sucked into an infinite loop of information texts, phone calls, emails, and social media. Two or three key people can more adequately manage the flood of people contacting the family.

While we know that we are overloading those involved, we can’t help ourselves. But we must try. If a person has 100 friends and family, you should stop and think of how long it would take to talk to each and every one of them for even thirty minutes. Upon hearing of someone’s passing, please think about how difficult it must be to carry on. While we need to hear and see words of well-being from those we love after losing someone, we also need quiet time.

I ask anyone who is losing someone close to constantly think of the balance we all need. We all want to see expressions of love and care, but also desperately want long moments of silence and interruptions, moments where we can choose to come out of the shell and be involved with people-when we are ready.

Instead of offering to help when needed, take pro-active steps immediately. Whether it is money to help with bills, funerals and expenses, gift cards for groceries. taking someone’s laundry to ease that household burden, doing errands: focus on “I’m helping” instead of “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” The person suffering with illness and death almost has no ability to prioritize. Let your compassion lead you to decide how best to step in and help without being asked. Most of us still feel guilty about asking for any assistance, even when we truly need it and even when we are drowning in sadness and life. 

01012014 Disco Inferno and Please Cremate Me

Although not considered a joyous topic, everyone who knows me should know that I want to be cremated. Preferably once I’m dead, in case someone wants to get things out of their proper order. Like most people, I have a few detractors who would gladly reverse the order. Were I born a few centuries ago, I would have been one of those heretics burned at the stake, saving several intermediary steps.

Somewhere around 100,000,000,000 people have lived and died on the planet, with around 7 billion now walking gleefully about. Imagine all those graves! Imagine our population growth and the future acreage that would be needed if we were to continue to bury people individually in plots, as we do now. There are websites you can visit which will visually demonstrate the size of cemeteries for one billion people – it is surprising. Assuming no other alterations to our world population, it is a certainty that burial will not be possible at some point in the future.  Being buried is another one of those bizarre things to me. Taking up valuable real estate when I die is not my idea of sensible. Even being buried in an allegedly impenetrable concrete (or steel) vault only slows the inevitable fact that one’s body will turn into sludge and decompose.

If you want to amuse yourself when I’m gone, definitely bury me intact. If there is the remotest chance of me haunting you after death, such a decision will guarantee that I visit you with evil intent after my passing.

Paying for all the extra pomp and circumstance is eliminated with cremation as well. The cost is not the bigger issue to me – it’s the attempt to conserve what must decompose. No matter how much effort we expend to memorialize someone we love, time will erase all of our vestiges of honor. I think it’s more important to celebrate our time here while we can and preserve the memories and mementos of the people we love. If we are careful and do it in a loving way, such archived memories can easily survive forever. Human flesh and even stone all succumb to time.No matter how mammoth your memorial, it will disappear in time.

Once cremated, place the ashes in a simple box and scatter the ashes. Putting ashes of a loved one in an urn is better than burial but still strange for me. Spending lavish amounts of money on an eye-catching urn doesn’t indicate a greater love for your lost loved one, just a larger bank account. No matter how much you treasure the ashes, you will then worry about who will care for the ashes once you’ve passed. Each thing that must be treasured weighs down those who follow us.

Embalming is another anachronistic relic leftover from earlier times. By avoiding burial, embalming is eliminated as well. Less chemicals, contamination, etc. Even if I were okay with being buried, I could care less about being embalmed. Wrap the body in a sheet and plant it, without all the intermediate materials, processes, chemicals and hassle.

That custom here dictates that we almost must use a casket is another weird thing to me. The casket, too, will decompose. Its alleged beauty is for the brief interlude between your death and burial. Putting a perfectly good quantity of metal, wood, and artwork in the dirt for no good reason is just weird to me. Paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of seeing it for a couple of days is absurd. Save your money and leave it to a friend or family member – or a charity. Or give it to the IRS – anyone other than planting it in the dirt.

I’ve found that a lot of people have never had a comfortable conversation with anyone about this type of topic. True, they might have had a quick, inadvertent talk with someone at a funeral, or done so while making funeral arrangements, but most people simply haven’t examined why they do things the way they do in relation to death.Many people will only look at death through the squinted corners of their eyes, as if contemplation of its shadow in their own lives will hasten its arrival. It’s an anachronistic viewpoint. This tendency leads to much family discord and financial issues that should easily be sidestepped.

From a very early age, burial seemed bizarre to me. When my grandpa Cook died is the when it really hit me that pretty much everyone else didn’t mind going along with tradition. His death was the first that clicked with me mentally and that we were putting people’s bodies in the ground. I had walked around the White Cemetery in Monroe County when I was young. Grandpa showed me several graves and told me stories – none of which do I remember. I do remember him reminding me that there was nothing to fear there. It was a common theme for him when he was talking to me, that men were the problem in most cases, not unseen ghosts or forces.

(Sidenote: my dad did not want to be buried. But he was. The well-meaning family members exacted their revenge by doing the opposite of what he wanted. They justified their decision in several ways, not the least of which was their views on cremation versus burial and the resurrection. Despite his constant reminders about not wanting to be planted in the ground, his desire to never be buried was wiped away with the idea that “he didn’t mean it.” While it is true that a lot of dad’s insistence about his views on burial happened while he was drinking, I would argue that much of his life in general was spent that way. Again, though, their revisions to history have been so constant that even they fight any mention of the truth. The problem is, though, that I know they they did the wrong thing in this regard. The month before Dad died when I visited him, he asked me about how I felt about church, god, and things like that. These were not normal topics of conversation for dad and me. He was pretty clear about what he believed – and what he didn’t. But each of us holds our own ideas who people are – sometimes these perceptions and filters cloud our judgement. They affect me, too, as much as I would like to believe otherwise.)

As far as I’m concerned, regardless of the circumstances of my death, if you would rather wrap me in dynamite and detonate it, that too would be okay with me. Especially if it’s on the internet. And you can sell the fuse lighting privilege to one of my detractors. Make even more money from the event.