Thursday, May 01, 2008

Body & Spirit

Last Friday Elke and Michael invited us to dinner and afterwards they turned on a movie so that the short and loud people would go slack for a while.

We talked about what each of us wants to happen to our bodies after we die.

[To hell with small talk!]

Michael said he wanted to be buried in a cemetery next to Elke, but Elke wanted to be cremated and to have her ashes scattered.

K was unsure and I was ambivalent.

"Why does it matter?" I asked.

We talked about various deaths in each of our families and how they were handled.


Michael recently buried his great uncle in a community cemetery where he's surrounded by other deceased friends and family members.

Michael is comforted by the thought of this as his uncle's final resting place.

He imagines his uncle at home in a place where
his eternal neighbors are souls that he knew and loved throughout his life.


Elke’s mother died of lung cancer three years ago.

Bucking Jewish tradition, Elke honored her mother’s last wishes and had her body cremated.

She held her mother’s ashes in the wind and watched as they rose up and then fell across the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

In Elke’s heart her mother’s after life is that of a world explorer following the path of every winding ocean current.


K’s father died when K was a boy of sixteen.

His father is buried in a cemetery in K's home town.

There's a space on the gravestone for his mother’s name and lifespan to be engraved when she dies.

K likes to visit his father’s grave, but he doesn’t get there very often.

No one in K’s family lives in that town any more.


I lost both my Grandparents last year.

They are buried side by side in a cemetery in rural Virginia that overlooks the farm country where they both grew up.

The cemetery is only a few miles from the places they were born.

When I would visit them in Virginia before they died, they would sometimes walk me through this cemetery and tell me stories about my many relatives who are buried there.

We would also visit three generations buried under a tree in the front yard of my Aunt Mabel’s remote, country farm house.

My great, great Granny rests there next to my great, great Grandfather.

They are buried at the feet of my great, great, great grandparents who are, in turn, buried at the feet of my great, great, great, great grandparents.

I remember that once I brought a vase of flowers to this place and sat to talk to my great, great Granny for awhile.

I don’t need to go to her grave to do that though, to talk to her.

The spirit of those that have passed are all around me, everywhere.


Michael thought we should decide what should happen to our bodies after we die.

He thought we should make our wishes clear to make things easy for those that survive us.

“I can’t believe you don’t know what you want to happen to your body when you die!!” Michael said.

“I never think about it,” I told him.

Elke laughed.

“Michael thinks about it all the time. He’s obsessed with his own mortality.”

Our conversation made me think that maybe the decision is less about what I might want and more about what I think my descendants might need.

Maybe the people that The Mayor and The Rooster become will help me decide.

Will they need me to rest beneath a nearby shade tree or fly away on a bird’s wing?


Law Student Hot Mama said...

I saw this article not long ago in which a new hubby and wife were quarreling over burial places. One wanted HER home town, the other wanted HIS home town.

Me personally? I like the ashes floating away out to sea idea myself. Only to be eaten by a fish that is later eaten as sushi by a fat business man! HAHAHA! Wow, I'm morbid.

But I do like the ash idea. When I was a kid, my mom used to take me to the cemetary and she'd always cry. And I hated going because she always cried. And I always felt awkward because I didn't even know the people she was crying about. And I don't want to create some place where people go to cry over me. I'm not nearly serious enough as a human being to want people to CRY when I go. In lieu of a funeral, I hope they have some kind of New Orleans-style party!

mamatulip said...

My mother was quite firm with her wishes, but when the time came when the writing was on the wall, so to speak, she did ask me what I preferred - if she was buried, scattered or put in a mausoleum. She said as long as she was cremated, it didn't matter to her where she was, as long as I was happy with her final resting place.

It was a huge moment in my life, that conversation with her, being included in such a decision.

Circus Kelli said...

It does not matter to me where my body goes when I'm done with it. All that matters is that my memory (hopefully good ones!) stays with those that I loved.

Shannon said...

My husband thinks coffins take up too much land, so he wants to be cremated and have his ashes spread over Shea Stadium.

I told him how I'll turn him into a diamond ring after seeing an ad in the paper offering to do so with the ashes of loved ones. I was really kidding because how weird would it be to wear my husband on my hand????

I would like to be cremated for practical and romantic reasons. It's more economical, plus no one in my family ever visit the graves of the deceased members of our family so why spend all that money for a coffin and a grave site. The romantic side is to be let go on the ocean since it's my favorite place to be.

Waiting Amy said...

I hadn't really considered discussing it with my children. But I can see where that would have importance.

I always felt I wanted to be cremated and scattered. Which serious bucks the family Catholic traditions (although it is permitted now). My whole family for generations is all buried in the same region, and mostly in the same cemetery. And my husband's Jewish tradition is certain anti-cremation. I'm not sure what we will do. Thanks for the thought to include our children in this decision, although they won't be ready for awhile.

Anonymous said...

This post really struck me--a thought that had never occurred to me, and yet is, in fact, so perfectly clear now that you bring it up. Maybe it is less about what you want and more about what those who survive need.

We let my father go in the wind and the waves 13 years ago and it felt to me as though the water simply swallowed him up and erased his very existence. There is nothing left of him, no grave, no marker, no space that is filled or held by what remains.

I wonder if it might have been different had the decision been more about those of us who were left behind? I'm not sure I would have pushed for a different outcome, but it would have been nice to have the discussion.

LaskiGal said...

What a thoughtful post . . . I ponder this quite often. We've lost so many family members and friends in the last two years, it is hard not to think about it.

I think I might want to be cremated. Just in case a weird virus attacks the planet and raises all the dead, I'd prefer to not be some walking zombie with limbs falling off as I stagger toward unsuspecting victims.

Touching? No?

Actually, I want little J to know I am everywhere he needs me, when he needs me. He doesn't have to visit me anywhere . . . I'm right THERE.

All humor aside, "The spirit of those that have passed are all around me, everywhere."--I couldn't agree more.

Jonathon Morgan said...

amanda has told me dozens of times exactly what she'd like to happen in the unlikely event she is to die before me -- because she knows her family will try and do the exact opposite (not matter what it is). i, on the other hand, am like you -- i figure it's best left up to whoever has to deal with it. with any luck i'll be someplace else by that point.

Little Monkies said...

I'm conflicted about this as well. My dad and brother are buried together next to my grandma and grandpa. My brother took my mom's "spot" so she doesn't have a place to go. We all believe in cremation and not taking up precious space on the earth, but love the idea of being in a place where our families could feel close to us. I'm glad I know where my loved ones are, but I'm freaked about them being in the ground. Does that make sense? My best friend growing up spread her husband's ashes on their farm and wonders if she marries someone else if he will be offended that she wants to be with her first husband in the afterlife. It's really confusing, and I think the thought of the hereafter makes it harder for some.

I love the image of your grandparents being together in their childhood home. Circle completed, real beauty in that.

furiousBall said...

ashes is the way to go.

cce said...

You're right on in thinking that the funeral, burial, resting place thing is more for those that are left behind than it is for those who have passed away. We're all hoping we're off to somewhere lovely and mild and full puffy white clouds anyway, right? Choosing the spot, the place, that allows our children to honor our memory is a nice idea.

Dawn said...

I really appreciate how you feel about this because I am the same way. I don't have attachment to what is left behind so it really is about what my family will need. Thank you for putting a voice to that for me.

Jan said...

We decided, a long time ago, to donate what ever parts are still working, and burn the rest. One of the reasons for cremation, for us, was economic, the other is we just don't care.

When my Dad died, he was creamated, per his wishes, and it just made sense.

Amy said...

I think you are totally right.

I posted a story about being buried in a giant ceramic frog. Now that's a send off.

HW said...

My dad died 13 days ago. He had made his wishes very clear and left very detailed notes - some are even humorous. He was cremated and his ashes were buried in the town in which he grew up. It was helpful to us, his children, to know those specific wishes. Of course, he had also told his wife, our step mother what he wanted. It helped us to have a plan, of sorts, to follow once he passed. Otherwise I think our minds would have been too muddled to get it all done correctly.

jess said...

I don't really care.
I think I'd tell my family to do whatever makes them feel better.

carrie said...

That is so hard to decide -- I think talking to your kids about it later might help.

Both of my gandparents ashes were scattered at sea (by FireBoat). But to me, it doesn't really matter, they are where I need them to be.

On the other side of my family, there are generations buried in a rural cemetary . . . every Memorial Day we go and visit the graves and take little people with us to teach them who is who.

Me? I dunno. I've always said donate me to science . . . it is just a body.

jakelliesmom said...

Now you've gone and made me cry at work. Oh, the humanity.

My father died when he was four, and I'm not sure if it was his choice or my mother's, but he was cremated. In my heart, I wish there was a real, physical space where I could go to be with him.

My mom will be cremated as well. She has shown me precisely the spot where she'd like her remains cast, and I will honor her. Not sure if it makes me feel better or worse, but at least we will have that connection.

Not quite ready to deal with this today, possibly not ever.

jakelliesmom said...

I'm sorry, not when "HE" was four, he was 28. I was four.

Queen Karana said...

I think I feel the same way. I don't suppose I really care whether or not who I am buried by. But if my children desire to be able to visit my final resting place... well, then I want to be buried in a place that they can visit me. And if I do get a say in it, I'd like to be buried next to my husband.

urban-urchin said...

I've told my husband to just cremate me, not to waste money on a fancy casket but use that money to go toward a big party. But you bring up a new angle- what kind of people my kids grow up to be and what they'll need. As usual,you have me thinking...

Biddy said...

my grandmother will be buried right on top of my grandaddy.

bow chicka bow wow

Lottifish said...

I can barely think about this, it makes me want to cry. I would love to have a place where I could go to be "with" my mother if she passed like a cemetery but the idea of bugs and stuff crawling on her is creepy.

I once had a dream that my Mom died but that I could talk to her in the fish aisle of the supermarket. Werid. Maybe that's where I'll end up going.

Tyrale Bloomfield said...

If I am cremated, I don't want anyone keeping my ashes. It's kind of creepy. Or comical. Some how in movies they are always spilling ashes or losing them. Maybe just one movies

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

I try not to think about this type of thing but know I'll have to eventually. But "eventually" does not mean "now".

Just call me Ostrich.

Rusti said...

I started responding... and ended up writing a book practically... so I cut and pasted it into a new blog post... you've inspired me in a very thought-provoking way... even if they are thoughts that I don't like to think...

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of Thomas Lynch's wonderful book, The Undertaking. He is a poet who is also an undertaker. His refrain throughout the book? "The dead don't care."

flutter said...

And you are with them.

My Grandfather died when I was 14, and donated his body to science. They cremated him afterwards. They called my grandmother, to ask if she wanted the ashes. She was in the throes of Alzheimers and told them no.

We attempted to collect his ashes from the depository after my grandmother died, only to find that it had been destroyed in Katrina.

I almost love to think of him in the foundation of New Orleans, having him seeped into the history of it. When I go there I will feel him everywhere.

Kevin Charnas said...

I want a green burial. No burning, no ashes, just wrap my ass in egyptian cotton, or burlap, then throw it in a ditch, then plant a tree.

However, in reality:

"Our conversation made me think that maybe the decision is less about what I might want and more about what I think my descendants might need."


Grim Reality Girl said...

My husband and I bought our plot within a week of burying my mom in the local cemetery (vs. the big impersonal one that I hated where my grandfather rests). I was happy my siblings and father went along with the idea.

At the time Hubby and I knew we wanted it settled. We had never considered the subject prior to losing my mom. I will be buried near her. I like this because it will always be a nice place for my kids to visit. We visit grandma's spot; little do they know... my spot is quite near.

The cemetery is peaceful. Having a place of peace to visit is good, it allows for reflection. We do not cry there -- we share happy memories and watch the sunset through the trees. It is wonderful to have a spot with a view :-)

I didn't think I was a cemetery type of person until I lost my mom. I find comfort there and I'm glad to have some comfort. My view is choose what feels right. I like considering the views of the kids. I know that my attitude toward my mom's resting place will shape their attitude toward mine. It is a place of peace which brings me comfort. May they have comfort as well.

Kelley said...

My Grandma died in March. She wanted no funeral, no fuss, cremated with no one there and ashes in a pot with a rose.

It was horrible. I know it was what she wanted but it just felt so blech.

Funerals etc are for the living. She got her wish because she was a very solitary person, but there was NOTHING for us left behind. It is like she went on a holiday or something...

I think you have the right idea, ask your family what they want.

WILLIAM said...

My dad passed away 4 months ago, today. I like the fact that he wanted to be creamated but my mom refused. She wanted and needed a place to go. He gave in and said he would agree he would be gone and if shee needed a place so be it.

I am glad because now I have a place to go.

Magpie said...

We need to have this chat with my mother.

But you - don't wait 'til you know what kind of people your children become, for the same reason that you need a will.

Deb said...

I think you're right. Funerals and their various ceremonial details are for the living, not the dead. They are like containers designed to encapsulate grief and the other emotions associated with death. I think of it like a pretty vase I'm going to leave my kids and knowing them and their personalities, what kind of flowers would most comfort them in my absence?

All that b.s. aside, I'm pretty cheap, so I'm probably leaning toward the ashes. ;)

Bon said...

i used to love going to the cemetery with my grandmother when i was a little girl, and tracing family lines back through the stones. but then i left for fifteen years, and even though i am here now, and my grandmother buried there...i seldom visit. not out of lack of love, but out of lack of need for one more place to visit, one more thing to do.

which is why i didn't want Finn buried. i like the portability of cremation, the fact that in this transient time and place, there is no need to choose a permanent resting spot. and yet...if cemeteries become a thing of the past, that would make me somehow sad. they are such fascinating artifacts, and always strangely comforting, to me.

mauniejames3 said...

My cousin, a year younger then me, died on St. Patricks day...I have been crying ever since..we were close..she wanted to be cremated and scattered on her roses..her hubby had her ashes split in five equal parts giving one to each of her three to her sister and he kept hubby wants to look for a final resting spot now..
un un...I'll be cremated

radical mama said...

John and I are both for cremation. Actually, I would much rather just be buried in a biodegradable box on my families property and allowed to return to the Earth without the middle step of being cremated, but you aren't allowed to do that anymore. :( The only thing I told John that I want is a little plot with my favorite flowers planted on it, wherever my family would like to plant it. Whether there is a marker will be up to my children.

dawn224 said...

I buried my dad last month. He left a list of what he wanted to be wearing, what kind of flowers, who to speak, music etc.

He's buried next to my grandpa, in a tiny cemetery among familiar names.

And I kicked the shit out of a bunch of flowers when I went back and saw the actual gravestone two weeks ago. (Of course I blogged it.)

Nell said...

I want to be you when I grow up.

Oh wait, I am grown up. Damn.

Pendullum said...

Seems like I am constantly surrounded by passings of friends and family...
My grandmother passed away a few weeks ago, it was a pretty sad year for her and my entire family...
But she knew she was dying and at the age of 87 one would think her affairs would be in order...Dot one i, and maybe cross one t?
She did not...
I had to plan my grandmother's funeral. I have never shopped for a casket,or had to think of such things before...
And I had to think of what she would want as opposed to what I would want...
In my grief it was eye opening, and interesting to be given the task... I also had to write and read the eulogy... It was an honour and maybe it helped me along... I do not know...But fora brief time,I had to think only in my Grandmother's mindspace...And look after things so her children may grieve...