At various points in my youth I dreamed of making major contributions to the welfare of mankind. Maybe discovering a cure for cancer or inventing an anti-gravity machine or a device for traveling through time. But chemistry and I barely became acquaintances let alone friends and my relationship with higher math and hard core physics wasn’t anything to brag about either. I had some success playing with computer software and I believe that some of what I did was actually creative but it wasn’t the sort of thing that advanced the state of computer science. But there’s still a chance. I’ve just made arrangements for my body to go to the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine so maybe someone will discover that cancer cure after poking around in my physical remains on the way to becoming a doctor.
Yeah, it’s definitely a long shot and that possibility wasn’t really much of a factor in my decision. That decision was based on one thing: practicality. Putting my body in a fancy box then using even a tiny bit of real estate to hold it just isn’t practical to my way of thinking. I won’t condemn those who consider this attempt at preservation extremely important but for me it seems wasteful and ultimately futile. The obvious way to avoid the fancy box and cemetery plot is cremation and that was a decision I made long ago and verbally communicated to friends and family. But even cremation isn’t free and it doesn’t happen automatically so I’ve gone beyond just telling my kids to cremate me.
I’m fortunate to have lived long enough to truly recognize that death is inevitable. We all claim to recognize that and say things like “No one lives forever” but what we’re actually thinking for much of our lives is “No one’s lived forever — yet.” Over the years I’ve come to accept that I really won’t live forever and that I probably wouldn’t like it if I did. Part of what I consider fortunate about this is that I have the opportunity to arrange a few things myself. I have benefited from my parents’ pre-planning and I’d like to spare my kids the need to hurriedly deal with some awkward decisions. They’re going to have enough trouble dealing with all those books, maps, and CDs. Arranging for my cremation while I’m still alive saves others from having to deal with either the arrangements or the cost. Doing it via a body donation saves even me the cost and the body might provide some small benefit before the fire hits. Getting even a tiny bit of use from an old man’s dead body seems like a true something for nothing.
It is not a perfect solution. The program itself is not flawless. Donors can chose between having the cremains returned or buried at a group site. The possibility exists that the specific cremains cannot be returned and “representative cremains from the Body Donation Program” are substituted. The family is informed of this but it’s obviously a big negative if something special was planned for the ashes.
The group burial site is in Spring Grove Cemetery. The site is marked but individual names are not recorded there. They are recorded by the Donation Program and the cemetery.
I recognize the value of grave markers to descendants and researchers. It’s an upside of cemeteries that even I see. I’m going with something of a compromise and intend to make use of real estate already in use by placing a plaque with my own birth and death dates on my parents’ tombstone. I also recognize that this means I’ll be taking advantage of something not available to my own offspring. Sorry, kids.
After raising the question with my daughter, I selected the return option rather than burial at Spring Grove. Even so, I’m not overly concerned about the unlikely possibility of “representative cremains” being returned. I have no sacred spots where I feel my ashes absolutely must end up. In fact, I’ve told my kids that if I die somewhere that makes getting the body back to UC overly expensive, don’t bother. Just burn me there. You’ll hear no complaints from me.
But if things do go as planned and my sons and daughter eventually end up with a bucket of ashes they’re pretty sure is me, I’ve suggested I be sprinkled along roads and rivers that have played a role in my life. A river’s current could carry those ashes some distance downstream and roadside dust that was once me could end up on the hood of a passing car in the middle of a long road trip. Both situations offer the possibility of taking me somewhere I’ve never been and that’s very much alright with me.