Do you dare to think about your own death in reasonable, detached terms? Do you think that’s morbid and grotesque to even consider, or do you find it easy? If you find it easy to contemplate in the abstract, is it because you suffer from depression or are suicidal, or is it simply that you recognize living as an inherently terminal condition?
This is big stuff. Even the clinically depressed are sometimes able to recognize, on those tiny instants of light in the midst of the abysmal dark, that their death, no matter how insignificant and unworthy they may think themselves, will affect others. I know this from experience, and from lots of reading and conversation and observation. I know that even when I was at my lowest—thankfully, not as hideously low as that reached by many, as I know in retrospect—my rational moments told me that no matter how they felt about me, or even if they didn’t notice me at all, when I was alive, everyone who was peripheral to me in any way would have some tidying-up to do after my death. Physical, perhaps, for those to whom body removal and disposal fell, but whatever tiny tasks I was not present to perform anymore would either default to another’s To Do list or leave a gap, incomplete. I realized that I am the butterfly effect, in human form. You are. Every living, breathing being has a space in the universe, a purpose, and however unnoticed in life, has an impact both by living and by dying.
All the same, I feel especially fortunate that in my family, talk about death and dying were far from taboo. It wasn’t all that uncommon to find the dinner table talk veering in that direction, if somebody we knew was unwell or had just died. We didn’t need euphemisms and pussy-footing to protect us from the reality of death. It’s nothing more or less than the inevitable cessation of life, and if we can’t talk about that, we’re stuck dealing with all kinds of petty and logistical nonsense just to get through the process when we’d rather be spending time living and loving each other and getting through the complexities of the occasion with a modicum of grace and humanity.
So my family already knows that I would prefer they donate what they can of my organs or remains to someone who has a better chance of survival and health if I give it to them, or to scientists who can learn how to give future patients that better chance. In fact, the government know this: I’m on the organ-donor registry, should I die unexpectedly or with usable parts intact. My loved ones also know that I’d prefer a minimum of fuss disposing of whatever remains of my physical shell after that, the cheapest and quickest cremation and scattering of my ashes being my top choice. I figure that any Supreme Being capable of inventing the human creature from scratch can easily put me into another, newer shell if and when it’s my turn to exist in any other form, and as for the current body, it’s a good source of recyclable carbon and nutrients to replenish any part of the earth that enjoys a good, tasty meal of ashes, say, my long-loved flowers the irises.
Those close to me also know that I have far less interest in what they do to celebrate or mourn my passing than the still-living will. If the occasion of my death can be used as an excuse for a marvelous concert to raise awareness or funds or mere pleasure for the sake of a musical group, whether my spouse is still alive to conduct or attend such an event or not, that would be lovely. But hey, I’ll still be dead, so y’all can do whatever it is that makes sense to you and I promise I won’t roll in my grave or be a pesky poltergeist or complain in any other way. Still dead, if you didn’t catch my drift.
And that, in fact, is a beautiful thing, and a great comfort to me. I don’t look forward to the actual process of dying or the moment of my death. I’d happily live a long, long life in great health and an approximation of sanity that seems cheery enough to me, before dying for real. But once I do, I feel genuinely confident that none of this worldly stuff will matter to me in the slightest, so as much as I like to “plan” ahead to keep my survivors from any terribly fussy practical matters in the event, I’m not worried. Go ahead and dance on my grave, if there is one. Keep on living. Don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine. Really.