Category Archives: Death

Death Vultures Want Your Stuff

When someone dies, why is it that some people focus immediately on what the person has when he/she dies? Instead of being concerned about the people left behind, the “death vultures” shift into a market mentality and begin to imagine what they might get out of the occasion. Or worse, begin to imagine what “should” be theirs.

My wife gets credit for getting the “death vulture” phrase stuck into my head.

There’s 2 ways to look at “death vultures.” The first obligates us to realize that the dead aren’t needing their stuff anymore and that discussion about their stuff isn’t harming the deceased in any way whatsoever. It’s just a practical concern. The second way we might look at, and judge, I might add, the death vultures is to note how impersonal and selfish the attitude is.

I’m assuming that a normal person (whoever that might be) would look at death vultures with disdain and contempt.

Once the funeral dust settles, the focus shifts to cars, houses, pictures, jewelry, money – anything that is left.

If a person has a legitimate claim on what should be his or hers after someone they know or love dies, then he or she must decide how crassly they must insist on getting it. Personally, I’d be more likely to just shake my head and walk away if arguing or refusals surfaced about my the stuff I was laying claim to. Even if it were something very personal or worth significant money. On the other hand, if a family member was simply being evil about it, I would at least consider being evil in response – and not waste my time with guilt about it, either.

The reality is that very few things are worth worrying about once the person you love has died. My main wish is to have access to pictures to scan – and give back so that everyone can enjoy. Everything else is just stuff. People need to stop fooling themselves into thinking we are here forever. Our stuff piles up, we die, it goes to people we love and once those people die it becomes junk or forgotten.

I did decide, however that the death vultures should wait until the close family members of the deceased bring the subject up and especially not to mention their wishes for stuff until after all the funeral-related activities are done.

Funerals

No one can be certain as to what goes on inside your head. Not your motives, fears, nor perspective. Try as we might to get close to other people, each of us still has our own filters in place to foolishly attempt to control how we seem to other people. The same is true with our attitudes at funerals: each of us tends to judge critically other people’s behavior, attendance and attitudes at funerals, while being forgiving toward ourselves.

A decision I’ve made is that I no longer will feel so responsible or attentive toward the “shoulds” of other people’s ideas about whether I should attend a funeral or viewing.

Only I know whether I appreciated, loved, or admired another person. It’s my choice to celebrate, observe his or her passing or think about someone who has died in the manner I choose. It doesn’t have to be taken as an insult to someone’s legacy if I observe a death differently than you think I ought to. The deceased has no opinion on the matter, in my opinion. I’m just one person, a person whose opinion doesn’t really signify much when weighed in the balance. I would rather someone spend time with family and friends looking at pictures, eating, telling stories, and sharing another person’s life than I would to have them obligated into the traditional viewing and funeral process.

I’ve grown so weary of being concerned about the “ought-to” factor with funerals. If I choose to not attend either a viewing or a funeral, it means that I’ve used my own personal criteria to come to this conclusion. Your “shoulds” and guilt-inducing words or behavior are your own responsibility. I’ll take your reasoned words into consideration if they are graciously tendered, but at the end of the day it is my life to do with as I wish, even if it involves me not participating appropriately in funerals.

Not that I am getting a traditional funeral, but I wouldn’t want someone to attend who felt apathetic or even resentful about me. Sometimes, people get upset that a certain dress code isn’t followed, flowers aren’t bought, thank-yous are forgotten, someone isn’t mentioned in the obituary or funeral program and so forth. 

Don’t twist my words. I don’t mean to convey that I will be rude or inconsiderate. Quite the contrary. What I want to get across is that each of us can and should decide how and if we each will be involved with a specific person’s funeral. We should not take our participation lightly nor callously disregard the feelings of those we love. I’ve noted a lot of funeral-related anger and venom hidden in the veneer of social obligation and guilt. The people I admire don’t browbeat or use coercive words and guilt to push someone into attending or observing funeral services.

We should take a long moment to honestly evaluate just how willingly we have been involved in viewings or funerals in our lives when we shouldn’t have. I don’t want to ever hear “You really should go” (or “shouldn’t go,” either) anymore.

Keep in mind as you read this poorly-written exposition that I personally don’t “get” most funerals. Burial is strange to me. Viewings are strange to me. Not uncomfortable- just strange and alien. I don’t need to hear words of spiritual comfort. Each of us is tasked in our lives with our own spiritual guidance and we certainly have our own minds made up about where we go when we die. I would much rather be a part of gatherings of friends and family, sharing memories. The traditional rituals for me are devoid of the meaning so many other people seem to be able to derive from them.

(I keep forgetting to mention that funerals as we know them are a recent invention. They haven’t “always been done this way” as many mistakenly insist. It is folly to use a traditionalist argument in regards to viewings and funerals. )

06072013 Euthanasia, Right to Die (From 2013)

Before reading, you should read the basics on euthanasia, doctor-assisted suicide, etc. It is easy to assume an understanding of what is being discussed.A recent case in Indiana involving a hunter who fell from a tree and was revived from sedation to make a decision about ending his own life brought this to me again. (He chose to die despite just having become a father.)

Striving for clarity and conciseness, I see no problem overall with euthanasia. Anyone who is aware of himself and choosing (or having chosen) to end his own life should be able to do so, independent of society’s ability to deny him the ability. I certainly don’t agree with any religious arguments which attempt to deny a person the ability to end his or her own life. Each person and family has the right toward self-determination. Having said that, my right trumps my family if a disagreement ensues.

After years of thought, I still have no moral argument that would persuade me that society is harmed by an individual choosing to end his own life in certain circumstances. We tend to offer more compassion toward our animals and pets than we do our fellow human beings. Unlike most people, I’m not limited to believing that only medical issues are grounds for choosing one’s own death, either. As with all defensible arguments, my beliefs are based on anyone choosing her or own death must be mentally capable of making such a decision or of making one in advance of circumstances arising, much like a living will.

(I’m always confused by the death penalty advocates who scream and wail about the necessity of killing criminals who balk at the suggestion that euthanasia is sometimes a worthwhile policy to support. They tend to stretch and exaggerate to include forced euthanasia as an objection. A reasonable middle ground is usually difficult for them to grasp.)

How Doctors Choose To Die

I’m specifically not speaking from my personal work history but rather generalizing from what I’ve seen in life. With my family and friends who have passed, the doctors who earn my greatest respect are the ones who will speak plainly and honestly about a person’s expectations and longevity. Almost without exception, these doctors have told me that they would not choose further treatment or excessive efforts for themselves or for their loved ones. Recognizing this and acting on it is not to be taken as a lack of respect or love for your loved ones; rather being able to make hard choices is the utmost in admiration in my opinion. It is possible to be both supportive and uplifting without being unrealistic. I see no reason that I can’t take it one step further and have someone end my life peacefully if I have made that choice clear. The last few weeks of many of the deaths I have witnessed have been anything but tranquil. We must live our lives prepared to pass out of existence, whether we enjoy the idea or fight it tooth and nail.

Passive euthanasia evidently is very common. In these cases, treatment is withheld. No direct action is taken to end someone’s life. I know that people can’t agree on the differences between passive and active euthanasia and voluntary/involuntary euthanasia. Without getting caught in the sinkhole of wordplay, I’m referring to someone’s right to end his or her own life, regardless of the semantics people enjoy using to complicate the issue. Should we do everything possible to extend someone’s life? How much is too much? Should cost ever be a factor? If not, who pays?

As for the entire “unfinished business” argument that many people try to use to dissuade people from being able to end their own lives, I think it is utterly without merit. Each of us has the right to chart our own course without concern for the interference of other people’s viewpoints. Each of us lives our lives from our own mental window. Thus, only you or I should be determining whether we feel our life is ending at the appropriate time.

If I have made arrangements to be allowed to die in certain circumstances, I would like to be able to make that decision. If my loved ones have made a similar decision, it should not be a public spectacle that occurs when I can do as they ask no matter how difficult it is for me. Our ability to leave when we wish to is one of the fundamental choices we have in life.

You can be certain that my general sense for me personally is that I would choose to die rather than degenerate slowly and inexorably, becoming a costly and prolonged coda to my own life.

Scott Adams Dilbert Blog Post

If You Die Today, Imagine For A Moment Where Every Single Thing Must Go

This idea makes minimalism all the more attractive, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to imagine leaving your stuff to a specific friend or loved one, knowing in general where it might land once you’re gone.

It’s another to think so long about this and to conclude that almost all of it is going in the trash. Not donated, not relegated to someone who can make use of it – but in the landfill.

Granted, much of your stuff won’t immediately go to the trash because people feel mostly guilty about doing that. It will go in boxes or in a pile in someone’s garage, attic, or storage. After a respectable time being piled up, it will be noticeably in the way and discarded.

It’s useful to note that much of it won’t be used because it duplicates what your friends and loved ones already have. Everything else, though, most of what you think is important, is simply toast waiting to be burned.

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.