Have you given careful consideration to what happens to you, once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil?!
No, this isn’t an existential or spiritual question. Much more an earthly matter of the flesh, and something I thought about recently as a friend died intestate and nobody knew what to do with her body. Should she be cremated? Buried? She left no instructions. Nobody knew what to do.
Her family weren’t close – so ultimately it was down to a cousin living in Scotland to decide (cremation, if you’re interested) and it made me realise how little I wanted that to happen to me. An almost-stranger deciding on my final resting place.
So I’ve been looking into different ways to lay my head down and rest in peace. I’d always thought I’d be cremated; I didn’t fancy the idea that my earthly body might get dug up or that I could potentially walk the earth again. Or – horrors – they might bury me alive! But the more research I’ve done into this, the more I’m liking some of the other options…
TYPES OF SERVICES
I always find it interesting how people often live their lives as agnostics or even atheists, yet find peace in religion as death approaches. And lapsed religious adherents who forsake their deity in life, only to buckle at the end and ask for absolution or prayer.
As he breathes his last breath, he shakily makes the sign of the cross, to show remorse and repentance. God gets him, right at the end.
I always think of that final scene in Brideshead where the old guy, having bitterly renounced Catholicism throughout his life, has the priest almost forced upon him on his deathbed by his daughter. And yet there, just as he breathes his last breath, he shakily makes the sign of the cross, to show remorse and repentance. God gets him, right at the end.
So to God, or not to God, that’s the first question. For me I think to God. My religious beliefs are personal but there’s something soothing about the thought of a higher power, so I’m going to head for that. Call it insurance.
What you choose here can be massively dictated by how you die and what goes on with your body. Perhaps you’ve donated your organs, eyes or other bits, or left your brain to medical science. Maybe you had an accident. In which case, the idea of open casket is probably off the list. You might not look too pretty.
Here in the UK we’re pretty clinical these days about the body. It’s kept somewhere else and we don’t get much time with it before it’s either buried or whatever, unlike the old days when it was normal for someone to rest in an open casket in their home and people to pop round and say goodbye over tea and cake.
They lovingly washed his body and dressed him in his best clothes and all said goodbye, in a ritualistic undertaking to prepare him for the next journey
A Dutch friend lost her father recently and she and her sisters and family did this thing where they lovingly washed his body and dressed him in his best clothes and all said goodbye, in a ritualistic undertaking to prepare him for the next journey. I loved that, and feet a bit sad that we are so removed from death here.
When traveling in India I happened on a funeral by accident and whilst trying to be respectful couldn’t help but observe – everyone is involved in the burning, people are close, touching – wailing and crying and feeling. Here, we are whipped away and kept somewhere cool for a bit. I guess if you’re going to end up downstairs for eternity that bit might be nice! But it’s a shame not to be more in touch with our deaths.
Still, I’m not going to enforce that. I doubt my kids want me parked in the dining room whilst they’re waiting for the big day. I’ll let them decide about that.
Having always said I never wanted a burial, I’m actually changing my mind, and looking into something a little bit ‘out there’ because I really like this idea. You can be buried in a chamber pod type thing that has a baby tree planted at the top, and as you’re buried underground, the richness of your remains basically feeds the growing tree, helping to create new life for the planet. And I love that. I mean, I have to not think too much about roots growing through me, but I am definitely into this.
If I was wildly rich or a member of the aristocracy then maybe the idea of a big mausoleum sort of seems fun
Other than that, the traditional types of burial six feet under, or above-ground burials such as in a crypt or mausoleum definitely don’t appeal. If I was wildly rich or a member of the aristocracy then maybe the idea of a big showing-off type mausoleum sort of seems fun – if only to provide a place for curious children to break into and get scared witless by. But ‘in the ground in a big box’? No thanks.
You can get coffins in nice wicker and cardboard and other more easily degradable materials now too, that’s quite interesting. But actually, I think I’d like to be a tree. I imagine people sitting under me, staying cool in the sun.
If I wasn’t a tree I’d be ashes, definitely. But recently looking into this I’ve become more aware that even this offers extraordinary choices now. You don’t have to sit in a box in a cupboard somewhere – you can be made into a diamond (type thing), or an ornament or jewellery. Turned into a tattoo, sent up to explode in a firework, or again there is the tree thing. You can stuff a toy with your ashes (shudder!), or even be pencils. One body can make around 240 pencils apparently. I kid you not.
You can stuff a toy with your ashes, or even be pencils. One body can make around 240 pencils apparently
According to YouGov, something like 76% of us want to be cremated, but only 7% of those people want their ashes kept hanging around. People generally have a very clear idea where they want to be scattered – on land, in the sea, off cliffs… so be creative with this.
There are rules about where your ashes can go, although obviously people just probably go off and do this stuff on the QT. I shouldn’t laugh about this story but I do – when my father and his brother went to scatter my grandmother’s ashes together, they did that classic thing of chucking her into the air, without working out which way the wind was blowing. So hey. Think about that bit too.
So there you have it. I know what I want, which is a religious celebration and to end up as a tree. I don’t really care which way that goes – whether I’m in a burial pod or a tub of ashes. I’m already looking at how to pay for this to make sure nobody has to pick up the bill after, and I’d like to know roughly where my tree is going to be.
Have you thought about what happens after you die?