How To Dispose Of Yourself Once You’re Gone
By Margaret Van Every
It was easy to check the box that offered cremation because the alternative was far less attractive. You could either make an ash of yourself or occupy a plot of earth forever while rotting in a sealed box. Most of us probably agree that land should serve a better purpose. If you choose instead to go up in smoke you can display your remains in an attractive wooden urn or perhaps scatter them on the lake at sunset. The only problem with cremation in Mexico is it leaves no specific gathering place for the family reunion on the Day of the Dead. You forfeit the party and savoring the tacos and tequila.
The practice of cemetery burial implies preservation of identity as an objective and requires a marker so descendants can, if in the neighborhood, stand upon the grave and think “Poor Yorick” thoughts. You’ll need a reservation and a worm-resistant coffin so you can rot at your own tempo. You must pay for the plot, box, and stone in advance, plus transportation to the cemetery. Your gringo friends aren’t likely to shoulder your coffin while dancing behind a brass band to the grave site.
Then there’s grass, flowers, perhaps an evergreen to garnish the otherwise stark mound of earth. These, of course, require maintenance unto perpetuity, which may translate into five years if you’re lucky. They will disturb that not-so-final resting place you imagined eternal, evict you, toss you into some communal bone dump, and deposit fresher flesh in your vacated space.
Because waste disposal by funeral “homes” is a stable and profitable business if limited to burial or cremation, we are never given the following six options when we entrust them with our remains.
green, natural, or woodland burial (worm food)
sea burial (fish food)
sky burial (bird food)
burlap bag burial (waiting for rebirth)
cryonification (freezing yourself)
corporeal gemification (becoming a gem)
I. Green, Natural, or Woodland Burial
Feeding worms your mortal coil is the approved green choice and requires neither money, maintenance, nor marker. No embalming chemicals allowed. Your relatives will never find you. You yield to the way of all flesh speedily, dust direct to dust, though some natural burial sites will wrap you first in a simple cotton shroud or place you in a biodegradable coffin of recycled paper. When you go under naturally you simply join Mortals Anonymous and immediately dissolve all class, race, and gender differences. In the meantime you are walking compost, proud knowing that one fine day you’ll be food for worms . . . and waste for worms as well. You’ll give back to your planet at last, making up for your years of gross consumption. I was a virgin when I first heard Andrew Marvell’s lyrical threat to his coy mistress: “There [in the grave] worms shall try thy long preserved virginity.” Marvell convinced me I’d better hurry up.
II. Sea Burial
Feed fishes. Nothing could be simpler, except for transportation to the shore. You’ll need a friend with a boat to drive you to the beach and launch you out a ways. Maybe best to tie a message to your big toe explaining your drifting is intentional so please do not disturb and do not call the Coast Guard. Make yourself a tasty tidbit in the primordial soup from whence all life emerged, feed fishes.
III. Sky Burial
Sky burial is an oxymoron, the exact opposite of a burial, namely defenseless exposure under the great canopy of the heavens. Here you offer yourself to large carrion birds—condors and vultures—that feast on fresh flesh. A butcher who includes humans in his trade will cut you into bite-size pieces your toothless feathered friends can manage. This way you can sustain some aerial life and also fertilize the earth. This method is practiced mostly in dry mountainous regions above the tree line where flesh would dry out without decomposing and the ground is too rocky for burial. Also trees can’t grow in high elevations, which precludes cremation in places like Tibet, Mongolia, parts of India, and the Andes.
IV. Bag Burial
Those who wish to be reborn can curl into the fetal position inside a burlap bag/womb, criss-crossed securely with rope and dropped into a hole in the ground until the day they are once again given light.
Some say the world will end in fire, but a poet named Frost thought ice is also nice and would suffice. At a savings over freezing your entire body, you can now freeze only your severed head and have it maintained in a special lab at a very low temperature until the time arrives when technology figures out how to download the contents of your brain to a USB. No kidding. They’re still working on it but once they’ve solved the USB part, they will then have to sort out which of all the thoughts you ever had were worth saving. Probably not many.
VI. Corporeal Gemification
You’ve always been told you were a gem. Now why not prove them right and materialize that metaphor, convert your otherwise useless cremains into a diamond? This is possible because carbon is the second-most-abundant