Your Remains: The Ultimate Downsize

Shilo Zylbergold | Best Medicine
Your Remains: The Ultimate Downsize

image by: Smart Income

Death is a phenomenon like no other. It touches all dimensions of human experience, as a biological process and as an event of profound cultural, spiritual, economic, legal, and social significance - Tamara Kohn

Now that spring has sprung, I find myself surveying all the excess junk that has been accumulating around the casa over the winter, such as books, books and more books. As I pon -der on how to deal with this interesting but excessive material, I find my mind doing a side-step over to the one bit of stuff that was thrust out into this world along with my own personal zeitgeist: my physical body.

It is said that the only two constants in life are death and taxes. Of the two, taxes seem to be a pretty sure thing, but death is inevitable. Or, as 60s rock icon of the Doors, Jim Morrison, put it: "No one here gets out alive."

Now that I find myself getting to an age where that last long ride is just over the next hill, I am beginning to ruminate over what will become of my remains when my spirit departs for parts unknown. This is not just an intellectual exercise, as probably sooner than later, someone else will have to make this decision if I don't make it myself beforehand.

There are a number of viable options available, but each one has its drawbacks. The first that springs to mind is that good old tried and true burial in a cemetery. This is the ultimate downsize: going from a lot of several acres to a two metre plot. It does not come cheap, as it can cost me an arm and a leg (and probably the rest of my body) to secure a grave site. Add to that the price of a coffin or casket, the engraved headstone, and an annual upkeep fee for the burial plot, and I'm probably wishing that I could have hung on to life a bit longer, or at least until my investments showed some signs of improvement. There are additional downsides to burial. Most coffins are made of wood and that means a certain amount of deforestation. And as the cemeteries spread out to accommodate new tenants, they begin to eat away at the valuable surrounding farmland. As if our Agricultural Land Reserve wasn't being threatened enough already by ever increasing urban sprawl!

Perhaps you've heard about the housing crisis just about everywhere. Don't choke on this, but the crisis has spread all the way to cemeteries and grave sites. With all the urbanization going on, there is just no room to expand horizontally. Case in point: a burial plot in Burnaby, British Columbia, which sold for $750 in 1998 is now going for a whopping price of $10000. Forget about bitcoin; the real money lies underground. It can't be long before we start seeing signs for the PostLife Realty Company at the entrances to cemeteries. Tiny home, anyone?

One of the more popular choices which has gathered steam in the western world is cremation. Basically, my body would be passed down a conveyor belt into an incinerator which burns at a temperature that's about twice as hot as the surface of the sun. By the time I'm done and taken off the barbie, I will have been reduced to a couple of good sized handfuls of ash. This residue of my former self could be kept in an attractive ceramic urn which would gather dust indefinitely on some relative's mantelpiece. Alternately, the ashes could be spread out over a favorite spot of land or scattered in waters along the shoreline.

Although this method solves the problem of land use, it does present a number of snags. Among these are the high energy needed to fuel the incinerators, possible air pollution leading to climate change and global warming, and probably even acid rain causing degradation of wetlands and marine environments. I'm sure you could probably throw in the destruction of the atmospheric ozone layer but don't ask me how that would work unless the ashes were sprayed out from aerosol cans.

And as to a popular disposal site, the scattering of cremated ashes near the shoreline, this presents its own problems. Never mind the pollution it would cause to a very delicate environment, it would most likely lead to the absorption of the ash by many different forms of marine organisms. Seriously, when I'm gone, I'm certain that I don't want to come back by being burped up after somebody chows down on some tasty mollusk or crustacean.

There has recently been a move afoot to "go green" when it comes to after life body disposal. If you agree to go this direction, your body will be allowed to compost naturally (and legally) right into the soil of an ecologically designated forested parcel of land. As you decompose, your loss will be some oak or maple's gain. And for those who choose to go the cremation route, the opportunity exists to have their ashes turned into concrete reef balls to be used to shore up or augment coral reefs and hence benefit the marine environment. Imagine, you could become a small building block for the lair of an octopus.

Another possibility for dealing with my remains is to freeze my body before I actually check out from this earthly realm. This is called cryogenic preservation and legend has it that Walt Disney's body is being kept frozen in an airtight cylinder until some future technology can thaw him out and bring him back to life. As for me, I'm not too sure I want to put my faith in freezer technology. Have you ever had your freezer become unplugged accidentally and only discovered the malfunction weeks later? Especially if the freezer was chock full of frozen fish? No thanks.

Then again, I could donate my body to medical science, but the thought of some medical student pulling the sheet off my chilled remains and having to look at the sorry state my body is in (it's a sad enough sight even while I'm still alive) is just too depressing.

As another option, I could go back to tried and true methods like Egyptian mummification. I just need to invest in a mid-size pyramid and ask for any volunteers among my many servants and cats who would like to be entombed with me. Of course, the whole procedure would probably be ruined by future archaeologists out to uncover the past, or by grave robbers hoping to find buried treasure (such as books, books and more books in my case).

On the other hand, I could borrow from the Tibetan culture and have my remains trekked up to the highest peak where it would be left for the birds and other high altitude scavengers to pick clean until only the bones remained. Then these bones would be ground up and fed to the local cows to complete the recycling process. Beats blue boxes, I guess.

Another choice could be to take a 1-person Viking cruise aboard a flaming longship on a one-way all-inclusive to Valhalla. Or, moving in a different direction, the Tinguian people of the Philippines have a lovely little ritual where they dress the bodies in their finest threads, seat them in chairs, and place lit cigarettes in their mouths. The corpses are left in these positions for weeks on end. Presumably, someone is assigned the duty of relighting the ciggy from time to time. 

Nobody asked me, but it's almost as if there are too many choices open to me for when I'm finished with my body. The sardonic part of me wants me to be cut up into pieces so that I can try all the different options that are available. However, at this moment, I'm leaning towards the cryogenic freezing technology to provide my final resting place, just so I can finally tell Walt Disney what I truly think of the movie Frozen. Just don't put any fish in there with me.

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