Final Wishes

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops an upside-down body as she changes her final wishes to accomodate a natural burial.One messy little detail about dying is what to do about the body. Not making known your Final Wishes can leave family members baffled, hissing at each other, desperately scrambling to do something meaningful to honor the deceased while settling their own souls. A Will informs loved ones about what you want to have happen with your stuff after you die. But your Final Wishes is a separate document that addresses what you want done with your dead body.

If you don’t share your wishes, anything could happen to your remains. The first apartment I ever moved into came with an urn on the mantle. No one knew whose ashes were inside or what to do with it. The urn stayed put throughout my short tenancy. For all I know, the ashes are still sitting among strangers in that dingy little apartment, half a century later.

My father, ten years ago, had prepaid for his cremation but didn’t specify what his daughters should do with the ashes. We three sisters considered burying Dad’s remains outside his favorite restaurant, but then convinced his old flying buddy to drop the ashes from his airplane over the Long Island Sound.

My daughter wasn’t even dead yet when family members discussed burying her body in a nearby cemetery. Days after she died, her last wishes were found in a shoebox under her bed, in the apartment she shared with friends. “In the Event of my Death,” Marika had written by hand four months earlier, in a document simple and short, like her life, “…I would like my remains to be cremated and scattered in Australia, as that is where I would be if I were alive (If possible).” A year after she died I set off, alone and terrified, to make it “possible.” Fulfilling that wish was the last thing I could do for her.

“You girls will have to figure it out for yourselves,” my mother always said, unable to discuss anything about dying, “Everything you’ll need is somewhere in my files.” When she died, we scavenged through her things to find: Take me to October Mountain and scatter my ashes to the winds, that I may soar the Universe and observe eternity.

I’m changing my own Final Wishes. After a lifetime of beating my body inside-out and upside-down, and regularly poisoning the earth with environmentally unsound products and practices, I want to finally come clean and give back to the land. I’d like a green burial in a natural cemetery. With as little impact on the earth as possible, just shove my corpse into a potato-sack shroud, and bury me quietly. No funeral, no fuss. I’ll even prepay.

 

What do you want done with your body when you no longer need it?

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Final Wishes

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    I think Greensprings is a great idea, but I can’t give up the plan Vic and I made to be cremated and buried in the forest under/near a large mama Red Oak tree. His ashes are there under a stone cairn, so his part of the decision is closed. For ecological reasons, we might have chosen a green burial if we’d known more about it. Greensprings was founded in 2006 and Vic was already sick. The cremation plan wasn’t questioned while we worked so hard to keep him alive, so I’ll probably stick with cremation.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Elaine, if I had a partner, or a love so strong and wonderful as yours and Vic’s—I’d get cremated and buried in the same place too.

      Reply
  2. Lynne Taetzsch

    Hi Robin,

    I’m with you–I have a plot at Greensprings Natural Cemetery in Newfield, where my husband is buried. I got a chance to ask him what he wanted during a rare lucid moment at the end of his life. So glad we chose this over cremation!

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Oh, I’m so glad to hear this, Lynne. Maybe we’ll be neighbors in Newfield some day. Yeah, I feel much better about this too. Wonder if I should be picking out a shroud for myself as well. Cheers!

      Reply
  3. Janet Hart

    I won’t go into my own history on this subject, including a call to a pro bono lawyer to find out what would happen to my body if I died alone in France! (the French gov’t would take care of things and the huge costs of repatriation would not have to be borne by estranged relatives, some, but not all, no longer estranged).

    Otherwise, I’m smiling remembering the conversation between the very focused Mrs. Snow (played by the fabulous Agnes Moorehead), the Undertaker, and Pollyanna (Hayley Mills). “Hush up, I’m pickin’ the linin’ for my coffin”

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I love it, Janet. Some peeps would probably say I’m too involved, too immersed in my own dying. But this dying thing really feels more “friendly” or do-able, less scary, if I consider the many different possibilities. It’s like having some kind of control, and I’m sure most of our fears are because we have so little control over our dying. My father wrote up volumes about what his daughters should do upon his dying. And I remember him saying, “It’s time,” after he’d completed his papers, when he was in septic shock and well on the way to his end. So I’ve started my own looseleaf binder of guidelines and instructions about my finances, the house, all my accounts … and yes, I feel better already about the inescapable fate of my death. Now I can obsess over being able to actually finish it all before the big event. But I must say, “dying alone in France” almost sounds attractive.

      Reply
      1. Janet Hart

        I hear you, Robin! At the time it was a chance for me to decide that I didn’t really care all that much and to rejoice in that idea, knowing that many others did (and do), like my father who spent years obsessing about the whole business. I think this is a perfectly valid concern and use of one’s living creativity, just not one that calls out to me…(big smile/grin) for complicated, vaguely buddhist reasons. You quote your dad, and I remember my grandmother saying to me a few days before the end–as I was feeling devastated at the thought, “you know I can’t live forever…it’s time.”

        And I actually do think that that scene from the Walt Disney movie really marked me during my 1960s childhood, for better or for worse, which I, perhaps annoyingly and certainly not preachily, reproduce here if that’s even possible… for the love of Agnes Moorehead and creepy old Mr. Murg haha Also interesting to think that we did have some resources back before the New Age and all the public conversation about these topics actually got underway.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zcm3aGNybb4 (Pollyanna and the Glad Game)

        Reply
  4. Lucy Bergstrom

    This is an important subject to face up to, inevitable as it is! I used to say I wanted to be cremated and have my ashes tossed over the waterfall at Lyadalen, where we lived for 25 years. Then I moved to Denmark, where I now also have lived just as long, and I have a husband who feels strongly about being buried “whole”. He is an archaeologist and wants to give future archaeologists something to dig up! Cremation destroys the evidence, even moreso when ashes are spread to the four winds. While I want my children and grandchildren to have the satisfaction of the waterfall ritual, so they can gather in nature to say nice things about me (hopefully), I also want to lie in unburned state next to Eigil at our local churchyard with a pretty granite marker and ferns growing on the plot. I worked at the church as sexton and bellringer for 8 years. That churchyard is a peaceful garden.
    Maybe I can think of something else for my kids and grandkids to toss over the falls, in my name. Fish food, maybe?

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yow, Lucy, so much to think about here. Yeah, I guess cremation does kinda change the way things might look to some future archaeologist. Not that I’d ever really like to have my bones dug up and studied. I think if I worked for a church with a beautiful garden and cemetery I’d want to be buried there. Kids will come up with all sorts of things to toss over waterfalls for you. (I’m still tossing things of Marika’s regularly whenever I get to a campfire or ocean). But it is so important to let the ones who love you know your wishes. Yikes, the family fights I’ve heard about, just poor grieving people trying to do something to feel better about a loved one dying. I only have one son but if I don’t let him know what I want to have happen to my remains, I fear they could end up being used as target practice.

      Reply

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