In the last 10 days I have had a close friend die and I finished reading “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Stories from the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty. My thoughts have been on death a lot. The book has had me thinking a lot about what I want done with my body if* I die, while KJ’s death has me thinking about what could possibly happen to our souls/spirits/consciousness after death. This post is mostly about the former but I am going to write about the latter subject a bit in the near future.
“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” really touched me in two ways. First, I definitely do not want my body to be buried in the traditional sense and I probably don’t want any type of cremation. I guess it really won’t be up to me though, and I shouldn’t care. I’ll be dead. What happens to this shell has no bearing on my future happiness, so if my partner wishes to bury or cremate my body she is free to do that. Hell, she can do whatever she wants with it… if it makes her happy or provides some comfort then I support it. It is unlikely that she will do either of those though.
My plan for my body would be to return it to nature in some way. No elaborate procedures to make my corpse look “life-like” for a ceremony or anything. I’d rather my body be laid to rest in the woods where the animals and bugs and environment can consume me. I’ve eaten meat before and there is something romantic to me about letting other animals eat me. Maybe plant over me so that my cells can create more life… maybe an oak, I love oak trees. At the very least I’d like to be buried without a casket or anything and let the worms have me.
The second message from the book is that the western world has an unhealthy relationship with death. We pretend it doesn’t exist, we hide our elderly, we do anything we can to maintain the image of youth. For really the first time in human history we are not surrounded by death. Children used to die regularly, families lived with elderly relatives until death, and family members were responsible for cleaning and maintaining bodies after someone died. Now, we push that all onto businesses who charge hundreds and thousands of dollars to spare us from confronting our own immortality. Perhaps we wouldn’t fear death as much if we saw it and touched it regularly like our ancestors did.
Another part of our fear of death is fear of the unknown. It is strange, but I was afraid of death a lot more when I was a Christian than I do now that I am an atheist. My religion made me always wonder if I was truly “saved” but now I don’t fear death. I think there are three basic possibilities for what happens to our consciousness after death: it disappears because it is permanently attached to our bodies, it continues to exist but in another form or body in this universe, or it continues to exist but moves on to some sort of afterlife. I see no reason to fear any of those…. but more on that later.
Death is natural. It isn’t something we can stop. We can make healthy choices that will likely prolong it (eat a plant-based diet, exercise regularly, get checked by a doctor, minimize stress, have a strong community, don’t interact with cops, etc) but in the end we don’t have much control over it, and we shouldn’t really worry about or fear things outside of our control.
* I’m still a transhumanist and believe we will someday cure all the diseases that cause death… maybe within my lifetime but maybe not. I hope to have the option of immortality but we may not be there yet.