I’m amazed by how often I hear older people say ‘Oh well, who knows if they’ll carry out my wishes?’ It might not matter to them. Or in fact that a member of the younger generation may already have taken it into their head that they know better than what’s written on paper what will be best. No we won’t donate his body to science, it doesn’t feel right. No we won’t have the coffin at the ceremony – the body in there isn’t Dad any more. No way are we going with the Enviro Rental coffin!
Yes, we all have our own preferences, but isn’t it just basic to respect a person’s end of life wishes? What’s going on?
But wait a minute. Does that person who is ready to ignore an expressed wish actually understand it? If it’s not possible to fathom why the wish is in place, it’s going to be harder to fulfill.
Values around coffins and shrouds
In 2015 ran a seminar on Sustainable Funerals and we looked specifically at the impacts of articles and materials involved in body disposal, especially coffins and shrouds. Nobody was too excited about worker conditions in the Chinese factories that produce Costco cardboard coffins. But each small group talking through the topic came to different conclusions about what they would want and why.
John, who up until then had held the view that his coffin should be sustainable and unpretentious, began to see the idea from his kids’ point of view. He’d never discussed this wish that he’d put in writing in his directives to them. Might they see this coffin as unattractive and cheap? Might they feel it didn’t do justice to him, and in turn to his family? Would such a box be shameful to them? He needed to talk to them about the values behind his end of life wishes.
Others realised that an expressed wish to be buried in a shroud could be confronting, uncomfortable and difficult for their family. They needed to do a lot more to explain shrouded burial, to hear objections, to come back to the topic again. Perhaps a gradual acceptance would emerge. In a sense they were setting the family up not to respect their wish, by assuming that the fact the choice mattered to them was all that was important.
Donating your body to science
Think about making the decision to donate your body to science. Holding the view that ‘I am not my body’ has perhaps grown on you with age, or through having spent time reflecting on life, death and what-will-become-of-me. Don’t assume that others aren’t squeamish about the body. They may dread the facts of what happens to a body after death. The whole idea of your body being stored or sawed may be horrific.
If someone is going cold at the thought of your body being donated to science, they are likely not to respect your wishes. Their resistance will in turn be difficult for others who only want to do what you have directed.
Early conversations are helpful
We’d all like to live and die in a world where it comes quite naturally to support preferred end of life wishes, but as with acting on anything unfamiliar, without practice it’s quite awkward. Take time to have these important conversations about what matters to you while you can. These stories highlight that some of the content of expressed wishes can take quite a bit of understanding and patience to explore.
By the way if you haven’t caught up with the 2017 winning entry to Tropfest, ‘The Mother Situation‘, it’s interesting.