Pondering One's End
I have been pondering my end. Back and forth in my mind – burial or cremation? Cremation, burial? Is either right? From my point of view, which is less barbaric? Which hurts the least? To burn or to rot –that is the question.
For the sake of my two daughters, I thought, Will my children want to come to a gravesite and murmur poetic goodbyes, or would it tick them off that they have to buy flowers and maintain my plot? Or would they, as many do today, rather haul me around in a Chinese urn?
Moving on, and wanting to make a well informed decision about my remains, I conducted research on how the disposal of bodies is handled today and even yesterday. First, I came across a typically Southern California method. A San Diegan named Claude Rex Nowell, alias Corky Ra, encountered highly intelligent beings some years ago, and he started Summum for those with a kinship to the Egyptians. Corky developed a way to mummify remains as an ancient alternative to burial. Today, Corky is dead, and he himself is mummified but mummification is very much alive. I am told Summum is booked solid and not taking new bodies for some time to come. Since I have no kinship with the Egyptians anyway, being Irish, I turned down the offer to be put myself on the waitlist.
Corky Ra Mummified
In looking into burials, I came across the traditional burial with casket, my corpse embalmed and dressed in a favorite outfit, open casket so that friends and family can pay their respects to the prone version of myself. I like tradition, but I am keeping this one on hold until I see what else is out there.
Today, Americans are beginning to reject the idea of spending astronomical amounts of money on traditional burials. We are now being encouraged to embrace an economical and ecologically friendly way to dispose of our bodies. I like that idea based on my present retirement income. Redoing the traditional burial, grave linings are done away with, as is embalming. Bodies are wrapped in a biodegradable covering or casket so they decompose and fertilize the soil.
The Frugal Funeral for an Ecological Eternity
I don’t mind fertilizing the soil, but I have two concerns. First, family members I have alienated along the way may take shortcuts to get me out of the way. As in the old West, they might grab a shovel, pack my body into a truck, (or buckboard as used to be the case), drive out to the back 40, dig the grave, and dump my body in. Some eloquent words might be spoken over the grave but then the command, “Close ’er up, Harry.” Secondly, since most of my kin are dead anyway, and for the sake of economy, my daughters might be placed in charge of my burial. Since neither has wielded a shovel in her life, I imagine the conversation at the gravesite as:
Jenny: “Why didn’t she just get cremated like everybody else?” My back is killing me.”
Mary: (disgusted) “Well, I just broke a nail and my new shoes are covered with dirt!”
I might be tempted to lift up out of the grave and say, Enough, girls!” and scare them to death (no pun intended.)
Cremation, although not my favorite way to go, offers some creative and attention getting ways to be remembered. One is to have a small amount of my ashes shot into space via rocket. Since I fear heights, this would be a no-fear way to orbit in space. And I do love the drama. The cost, however, might be prohibitive. While a simple orb would run me $3000, deep space would set my estate back $12,000. But my God, my kids can track my ashes on their iphones!
The Shooting Star Memorial delivers a symbolic portion of your loved one's
remains to Earth's orbit, only to end this celestial journey as a shooting star.
Elysium Space has an app to track the ashes of loved ones in orbit on iPads and iPhones.
I could be part of a fireworks display. Now this appeals to the exhibitionist in me. I sat on my patio the other night under the stars and imagined friends and relatives viewing the display of my ashes shooting skyward and remarking, “Oh, that’s just so her!”
A Happier Way to Say Goodbye
(Heavens Above Fireworks)
In another way, artistically, I liked the idea that some of my ashes could be encased in a beautiful glass sculpture, which have become the rage in recent years. I picture a beach scene with some ashes as sand and some floating above the waves in an ocean spray. I would leave word to have one made up for each of my favorite people. When I told my daughters what I might do, they said, “Oh my God, Mother!”
Glass Sculpture of Ocean Waves
Since my research did not engender a clear decision for me, I decided to think back on past family burials and cremations to look for a clue as to what method would seem most humane for all. Take my mother’s funeral. Mother was of a generation before cremation became the ecological and economical choice in this country so we went with the old fashioned funeral. My sister, Jane and I, under emotional duress, purchased a special casket for her. Porcelain from head to toe, from stem to stern. Imbedded in the porcelain were painted flowers, flowers, flowers; wild flowers in pink and yellow woven among green vines. The casket was lined in pink velvet. Being a woman of simple tastes, Mother would have had a fit at the extravagance.
“I want to take a nap in that,” my sister announced to me and to the coffin man.
“Me too,” I said.
“It’ll cost ya,” funeral man said, departing from his studied sales pitch.
“We’ll take it,” we said.
The funeral was a hit from the casket displayed on a stage in golden light, to the poetic eulogy by our brother, to a rousing sing of Amazing Grace. The coffin was stunning but we were a little embarrassed when relatives spoke of nothing else in the receiving line, forgetting to pay respects to the grieving family. Aunt Barb stopped me in the vestibule after the service and asked,
“Where did you get that casket? I have to have one,” she said excitedly. I looked at Barb with surprise. Aunt Barb was a woman of the greatest reserve. If she registered an emotion above “My, My”, we called the medics.
“Check with Jane, Aunt Barb,” I said, as I gave her a hug. “She can hook you up.”
A glorious funeral it was, and we sent a number of folks to the supplier to purchase their caskets for the future.
The main point is, it was a quiet affair, a beautiful service, nice music, no major gaffes or family crises.
My ex-husband’s memorial service, on the other hand, was a different story. Cremation had become popular by then and his children wanted to honor his wishes. So cremation it was. I was nervous to attend his memorial as the “Girlfriend” was in charge of the event and was not overly fond of me. Since the memorial was held in John's favorite honky tonk hotel, I wore red cowboy boots to the affair in memory of John’s and my horse riding days together. I knew my girls would appreciate the fun of it. How much this was a dig toward the girlfriend, I am not prepared to say. Anyway, I felt I needed to pay my respects for the sake of my daughters. On her arrival, the Girlfriend looked down at my boots with a frown and breezed past me without a word. So there we were, the Girlfriend, two daughters, two stepdaughters, five grandchildren, relatives and friends, and me.
I had little experience with cremation as my parents were buried and other relatives and friends who had passed on had thankfully kept their ashes to themselves. Not so my ex-husband’s offspring. Into the hotel reception room rushed his second child from his first marriage, Susan, with a large cardboard box and several zip lock baggies. Susan plunked the bags on a table prepared for the service and announced to all, “Daddy’s here!” and with a big smile. “Let us begin.”
Guests stood silent, staring at the baggies. My mouth dropped open but I managed to snap it shut before anyone saw. My two daughters looked at each other and rolled their eyes, as usual. A few guests hauled out their cell phones and began to text. The Girlfriend, who insisted on standing for the whole service, sighed and clutched the wall that was holding her up. Susan’s sister, Betsy, gently led Susan to a table in the corner.
At that point, we were grateful to focus on a slideshow of John’s life and loving remarks by family members. While all this was going on, the remains of the man I had married and stayed friends with for 30 years lay prone and dusty in bags on the table in front of me. As the slideshow of family photos played, and as we all wept and passed tissues to one another, I found myself reflecting on the past in a rather macabre way. Is that his hand in that baggie – the one that pitched hay for the horses? Or is that the foot he used to kick Harry the cat when Harry tried to lunge into the house? How about the ears that never seemed to quite hear when it was time to do the dishes?
I had never been fond of the idea of cremation but now I was horrified. I wanted to stand up and shout, Are you out of your minds? That’s my husband (former) and the father of my children in there! For the sake of the somber occasion, I bit my tongue. Guests and family had by now managed to put on stone faces as to not appear overwrought.
Later, as baggies were passed out to the elect, me excluded of course, I thought, Thank God. See you in the hereafter, John, I thought. Hope you have all your parts. I quietly left the building.
In recalling my ex-husbands disturbing memorial, cremation is out for me. The idea of having my feet, hands or any other part of my body poured into baggies is abhorrent to me. Not to mention having them fall into the hands of certain relatives I don’t care for. So burial it is. Traditional. The whole nine yards. My daughters will just have to tend the grave after all. I want a casket like Mother’s. Gorgeous. Porcelain. Ceramic roses all over it. Me lying in pink velvet. How dramatic is that?
On top of that, I hear cell phones are now being installed in a traditional casket. What more does a corpse need?
Coffin above includes a cell phone in case you feel the
need to call from the other side