The Last Thing You Do

A few years ago, a friend of mine was at a funeral. There’s a part of the ritual in which you sit in climate-controlled comfort and gaze upon the corpse, then there’s a procession from that place to the plot where those remains will be interred. Well, slippery roads, a steep hill, an idiot in an SUV, etc., led to the hearse getting t-boned in dramatic fashion. Before the procession could proceed, a new corpse-buggy had to be called for.

It arrived, and that’s when the powers that be discovered that the coffin itself had also been damaged. The seals had been broken. The body had to be taken back to the mortuary to be reboxed. Why? Because the mortal remains of a fine person had been converted to toxic waste, so people could look at the dead person before those remains went into the ground. Really.

What an insult to the soil. It angers me to think that my body may not in its own turn nourish the planet that sustained it. I want to be fertilizer. I should be fertilizer. Run me through a wood chipper, dump me out over the roots of an apple tree, and I promise you I will do my best to make those apples taste better than any others.

Cremation is less of an insult to our planet, I suppose, but it’s hardly carbon-neutral.

I was mighty happy the other day when after a high-fiber meal I had more time for Facebook than usual and I came across a link to this: What to do When You’re Dead: Science Edition. Here’s your chance to make the last thing you do something constructive. Apparently liquid nitrogen is better than a wood chipper. While less dramatic, I’m good with that choice. Note that launching yourself into space is not terribly environmentally sensitive, either, what with the rocket exhaust injected directly into the ozone layer. But it would be cool to be a meteor. With the proper preparation, your friends could watch you streak across the sky and vanish into nothingness. That would be a hell of a way to leave the building.

But whether you choose any of those alternatives or come up with one of your own, think about it: What do you want that last thing you do to say about you?


3 thoughts on “The Last Thing You Do

  1. Read “Stiff: the Curious Life of Corpses” (I think it’s called). Basically, “here’s everything you can do with your body when you die.” Putting it in a box is clearly at the bottom of the pile, but there are more things you can beneficially do with it than just push up apples (e.g. let forensic investigators shoot you full of bullets or bury and exhume you repeatedly to get real-world data that can’t be accurately modeled any other way).

    • I’ll check that out.

      I have to admit that the apple tree thing is more a romantic notion than an idealistic one. One of the products mentioned in the above-linked article is a biodegradable urn with seeds so you can grow a tree, but for reasons I have a hard time putting a finger on, being cremated and used as fertilizer doesn’t appeal as much to me as being fed through a wood chipper (or a liquid nitrogen bath) and used as fertilizer. Perhaps there’s some latent animistic bent in me that clings to the idea that some valuable essence of me-ness will be cooked out of my carcass if I’m cremated. Also, it’s not carbon-friendly.

      But once the atoms of my flesh stop working in some sort of organized fashion that somehow constitutes me, it’s time to stop being part of the problem, at the very least. If my meat can help other people’s atoms stay organized for a longer time, that’s a worthwhile goal. Certainly no point putting a perfectly good research tool through a wood chipper.

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