The previous post gave some general thoughts on death from yours truly, a self-admitted atheist and blogger who flies under the flag of “literary humanist.” This post is an explanation of what I would want for myself given my untimely (or if it takes long enough, my timely) death.
I actually wrote a letter to a few close friends of mine about two years ago that spelled a number of things out. So if it’s all the same to you, for this post, I’d simply like to copy that letter:
Though it may seem strange that I’ve written this document, I’m sure you will all understand why I have. Given my “deconversion” from Christianity (or as I like to put it, my recovery from Christianity), coupled with the fact that the majority of my family still holds deeply religious faith, I think it’s important that my final wishes be written out so that there is little ambiguity regarding what I want. This could be very helpful to my family, since they may simply have no idea how to progress with my funeral arrangements given my apostasy, or it could be used as a tool to fight those who feel overly compelled to give me a religiously-based service. Either way, I think that makes this document important.
To start with, I would like to be buried rather than cremated. I think it’s important for my remains to decompose in a way that flora and fauna may dine on it, the way I’ve dined on flora and fauna my entire life. It’s really the least I can do. That said, please, no ridiculous additions to the casket like sealant or any such nonsense. As a matter of fact, use the cheapest casket you can get your hands on. If there’s money to spare and any of you really feel the need to splurge on a Cadillac casket that I’ll never see and that you’ll see for one afternoon, go nuts. Just let the record show that I think it’s an absurd waste. Ultimately, my funeral is actually for all of you, so I’ll let you make the final decision on what box my corpse hangs out in.
Which comes to the important part; the part that I do care about. If there’s anything that I’m really leaving behind, it’s the memory of me that all of you have. Perhaps many of you share common memories of me. Many of you will have differing opinions of the type of person I was, having seen different sides of me doing different things at different points in my life. It’s these memories that I want to take center stage at my funeral. If there’s any part of me at this event, it’s the words you all would share about the things I’ve done in what I hope was a meaningful life, so I’d like these stories to be the main focus. And unless I’ve done terrible things to you, I would hope that these stories will make for a funeral that is a celebration of the person who has departed from this mortal coil as opposed to a lamentation of his not partaking in the activities of tomorrow. I would want for all of you to celebrate as if I was really there, because in your collective memories, I still will be. It will arguably be the last chance for me to spend time with each of you, so if you cared about me in life, you would do this for me in death. That, I think, would be a much more brilliant dedication than a nice looking box.
And as I stated above, this is not to be a religious ceremony. Short of some strangely compelling evidence of an afterlife coming to light between the time of writing this and my death, there will be no talking about me being in heaven, hell, purgatory, nirvana, the ether, or any other such mythological place. Incidentally, if evidence for such a place is found, it will then be known as the science of the afterlife, so my point on not having a religious service would still stand. Now, I’m well aware of the fact that I said above that this funeral is actually for those in attendance rather than for myself, so if that’s the case, then the religious sensibilities of my family and friends should be taken into account. I realize this, and don’t care. They can keep that to themselves, and/or discuss it at length after the funeral. Don’t think I’m being callous by saying this; I have my reasons. First off, I know that most of my family is convinced that I’m doomed for a place they call hell, where I will be tortured for eternity for my unwillingness to subjugate myself before an invisible monster called god who supposedly created the universe. Seeing as how I’d like the event to be a celebration of life, this little bummer of a narrative wouldn’t exactly fit the theme of the party. The second reason is that I grew up in the Christian tradition, and because of my personal experience in it and from the knowledge I’ve gained about other forms of religion through independent study, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a poison and perversion of human dignity. The idea that the beauty of life cannot be excused, let alone appreciated, without the dictates of a divine ruler who keeps you as his slaves, is a mental construct that we’d all do better without. I realize that many people reading this would refuse the grammar of the way I’ve described their religion. Once again, I don’t care. If it’s my funeral, then I’d like to think I have some say in how it’s presented, and I’ve been more than clear on why I want a secular service.
Short of that, I’d say eat, drink, and be merry. If I come up with more instructions/suggestions on this matter, I’ll edit this document some other time in the future. Otherwise, if I haven’t mentioned it here, you can safely presume that any other detail of the funeral is something I don’t have an opinion on.
It’s somewhat amusing reading this piece again, as I in fact do care about how friends and family would interpret the grammar of the way I’ve described their religion, if for no other reason than the solidarity I still have with them. Of course, once I’m dead and gone, I’m certainly not going to be put into a position of caring, so I think the honesty of the letter stands. That said, I do find it amusing how I managed to cringe a bit at some of my wording, thinking about those people in my life who are devout Christians and the fact that I referred to Christianity as a perversion of human dignity. But that’s ok, because it goes both ways. In life, there are certain armed truces we hold with one another that transcend the particular details of our time on Earth. It’s the manner in which we love and respect each other in spite of our faults, however we interpret those faults to be.
To read my thoughts on personal end-of-life planning and euthanasia, stay tuned for part III.