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?