This Business Of Dying
Several months ago, I began thinking about death. Not in a suicidal way, nor in any “he’s so depressed, I should be worried about him” sense. I was speaking with someone about lovely places I’ve seen, including an absolutely beautiful waterfall in upper Elk Lake Provincial Park. I casually mentioned in this conversation that if I could choose a place to be buried after I died, I’d want it to be right there – near that gorgeous roaring river and the many rainbows the splashing water created.
This simple phrase led to a long late-night discussion about the business of death in Canada – and in most developed nations I’d imagine. For the truth is: there’s no way that I, or my family, could legally have my body buried in a setting of my choosing.
According to Canadian law, a dead person can only be disposed of in two ways. These are a proper burial, in a proper cemetery, with the proper things having been done to it; or by cremation, in a proper cremation chamber, under appropriate cremation circumstances. In both of these cases a funeral home or mortuary needs to be hired to ‘ ‘take care’ of the body – making sure it is suitably…. well, dead.
According to Canadian tradition, in being dead, your family is responsible for hiring a private business, to do things according to national law and dispose of your corpse correctly. This private business is responsible for embalming said corpse (i.e. removing its entrails and inner organs), painting its face with blush or other makeup to make it seem more… alive, and ensuring that it is placed in a proper container; be this an urn filled with cremated ashes or a coffin – one that is often lined with velvet and made of some luxurious hard wood.
These processes – which again are mandated completely by national laws – can cost a family anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000. At the low end, with little fanfare or ceremony, your body is burnt and your family receives a simple plain urn with ashes in it. At the higher end, a big ceremony is held, a reception is held, the coffin is lined with satin, and a large and intricate headstone is placed above a special spot in the cemetery; all of which the family members have selected from a ‘death menu’, if you will. My parents even once casually admitted to me that my sister’s funeral many years ago cost almost as much as her wedding day did.
There’s some serious irony here. Does anyone else see it? Our family members are essentially forced to treat a lifeless body – that I believe no longer contains a soul or spirit – with honor, care, respect – costing them big bucks. Not only that, they are forced to go private, to enlist the help and assistance of three or four other parties (most of who are paid generously for their services), before the lifeless body is ‘properly’ disposed of.
I understand the risks of leaving dead bodies lying around – don’t get me wrong. We don’t want our loved ones rotting in front of our eyes. We don’t want corpses stinking up the world and spreading disease. We don’t want our neighbours cremating their loved ones over a big bonfire in the back yard.
But what about me? What if – heaven forbid – I pass away anytime soon. I want my friends to load me in a truck, drive me up a mountain road to my favourite beautiful waterfall. I want them to unload me from the truck, dig a great big hole, and gently place me in it. I want my friends to then plant a small tree or sapling over that hole, say a few words, and say goodbye. My body is buried, and once the bugs get at it, I’ll be returned into the eco-system, providing nutrients to the small tree that now grows where I was buried. My friends and family can then go somewhere – distribute a map that includes directions on how to find ‘my tree’, and they can spend the money they would have otherwise ear-marked for a ceremony to be spent on having a good time and celebrating life, perhaps donating anything leftover to a good cause involving music.
I don’t want my parents and family to purchase a coffin. I don’t want them to hire a stranger to say a bunch of nice words, while people can view the corpse of the man I used to be. I don’t want them to pay big bucks so that I can be burnt to ashes, nor do I want them to pay big bucks for a container to put them in. All I want is to buried somewhere nice and peaceful, without any big fees or fanfare. That doesn’t seem like much to ask, does it?
Well, according to national laws, it most certainly is. Someone who buries my corpse in the woods, even with my explicit permission, is committing a serious crime and can go to prison for it. Someone who burns my corpse privately will go to prison. Someone who buries me in a cemetery, in a cheap brown box, will go to prison.
So let’s face it folks. When we die (which to the best of my knowledge we still all do sometime), those last few days our bodies go through are not ours. They are painful for others, they are expensive, they are arguably unnecessary – and those bodies become a big, huge, giant business for private companies. (Over 200,000 Canadians die each year.) Perhaps I don’t wish to contribute to the business of dying – giving money to some private business that gets rich off of the pain of others. Yet we cannot choose not to use them, as that would be illegal. And the government won’t bury you for free – it’s written in some law book somewhere.
So, after this late night, slightly morbid conversation from several weeks ago, and some similarly morbid research done since then, I am now resigned to the inevitable. My family can fight, they can fume, and hopefully mourn a little too. They can eventually opt for the cheapest urn, cheapest coffin, cheapest everything – but they can’t bury me where I want to be buried. They can’t make my final wishes come true, for that would be illegal.
So here’s my parting words. If anyone should read this: if I should die, I want my family to go to the cheapest funeral home in town. I want you to take in your own urn – preferably a large coffee can. I want you to get me cremated in the cheapest way possible. I want you to take me to the top of my favorite mountain – near Elkford BC – and I want you to shake those ashes out into the pool beneath that waterfall. And then… I want you to go get drunk and laugh and joke and smile while swapping stories about what a weirdo I was. Because getting drunk after dumping ashes in provincial parks: well, that’s still legal in my country.
Christopher Eric Hibbard, Esquire
P.S. – Again readers – there’s no need to worry. I tried the suicide thing once when I was younger… it’s just not my thing. 🙂
~ by Chris Hibbard on August 13, 2013.