Death on Purpose

We are all going to die. That’s the big elephant in everybody’s room. We may live our lives on purpose, get married on purpose, raise our kids on purpose, plan for retirement. Purpose is a good thing. But it just dances around the cold, hard fact that we will bite the dust. Kick the bucket. Give up the ghost. Buy the farm. Bite the big one. Cash in our chips. We are all facing the long dirt nap.

So what do we do about it?

Some do plan ahead. My mom paid for a plot and headstone. But that still left a bunch of work on the survivor side – choosing a coffin, transportation, planning the service. And, in modern America, that adds up to about $11,000. My dad used to say “just put me in a pine box” to save money – and we tried to follow his wishes but it turns out that a pine box is an upcharge!

After the dust settles (pun intended) those left behind now must deal with that very expensive grave. My mother-in-law wanted burial in a private, old family cemetery a couple hours away. That means no perpetual care, an all-day trip to visit or maintain the grave, and being left out of sight, out of mind. On the other hand, my parents are buried even further away but do have perpetual care (i.e. someone mows the grass). I have not been back to my mother’s grave since I buried her in August, 2017.

No, I’m not a heartless bastard.

You see, death is the end of this life. My mom, and your loved one, is no longer a part of the conversation in this realm. They have shed the mortal coil and, depending on your belief system, now exist on a higher plane. Or don’t exist at all. Either way, visiting a plot of grass with a very expensive stone propped up on it does nothing for the relationship. The dead aren’t in the cemetery, perpetual care or not – the dead are gone. And standing in a cold, wind-swept field in a distant town isn’t going to change that or even make it more palatable.

There’s got to be a better way.

My wife’s sister recently passed away from a long illness. There was nothing fun about her last days, weeks, months. She was not a person of means and realized that. Debbie requested cremation, with her remans scattered at the beach. She always loved the beach and, in the midst of her illness, my wife took her for a last visit to Gulf Shores. Debbie made her sister promise to bring her back there after she died.

We keep our promises.

There is no such thing as burial for someone who doesn’t have any money. There is plenty of folklore, but no public policy. If someone doesn’t claim the remains the county attorney (here in Tennessee) does a background check and finds a relative who can afford to pay for the disposition of the remains. We had no intention of letting that happen so decided to shoulder that burden ourselves. And I started calling “funeral homes” looking for a cost to cremate.

They thought I had money to burn!

We were quoted anywhere from $3,500 down to $1,900. Plus assorted fees. One place even admitted they didn’t do the cremation but subbed it out. So, I called the sub – they wanted $995. Now we were getting somewhere! But I kept digging (pun intended) and finally found a place that offered cremation as a commodity, not a profit center. Oddly, they turned out to be the most compassionate place I talked with. And here is a shameless plug for their services:

For $600 they would come and get the body, cremate, and give the remains back to you in a handy container for transporting to the beach. They were kind beyond belief, operated in true customer service, and fully appreciated our predicament. They were a breath of fresh air.

But it gets better.

Our youngest daughter is at Emory University earning her Doctorate in Physical Therapy. She was telling us about her experiences with cadavers – that’s how you really learn how the body works, by going inside and having a look around. She said there is always a shortage of cadavers and there was a program to help remediate that shortage. So we sent off for info, filled out the applications, mailed them back. But they rejected us (turns out they can only take Georgia residents).

Only now we knew. My wife checked around and Vanderbilt University, a medical school in Nashville, had a similar program. Once again, we got the info, filled out the applications, sent them in. And approval came back in the form of a handy laminated wallet card. That card is important – immediately upon death someone needs to call the 24/7 number and make arrangements. Off my body goes to Vandy, some students get an education, they cremate the remains. And my heirs get to tote me off to the beach and scatter me to the wind.

Membership has its privileges, indeed.

You can get all the facts right here:

I will have to say, there is still a little snag. The beaches all have rules for throwing your loved one’s dust to the wind. Apparently, they seem to think that it is hazardous waste. Or at least creepy. There are rules about digging trenches, going out to sea, etc. But I’ve been to those beaches. There is so much stuff in that water I won’t get in it. My ashes may actually improve the PH – so I think this is a time for a little civil disobedience. And a quiet, evening stroll on the beach. If you get what I’m saying…

And what I’m saying is this: Die on Purpose. Die with Dignity. Let your remains be a benefit. Don’t let your last act be to cost your family crazy money to hide your decaying body in the ground. Let your body help bring training and knowledge, and life, to others. This might be the only time you really beat the system of the expensive, opportunistic system of death.

If you are religious, talk to your pastor. If you are not, you have no quandary. But either way, let your family know your wishes. And get your laminated card. So, when you check out and buy that one-way ticket, when your number is up and you’re knocking on Heaven’s door, you’ll be at peace instead of pushing up daisies.

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