More than Just Paper or Plastic: Other Options for Bodies

In America today, common and easily accessed options for body disposition seem to boil down to two:  cremation or burial.

But do you realize how many other options you currently have?   Especially if you’re open to not ever receiving remains back, there are more choices than you might understand.

  • If you’re close enough to a medical school, you can always consider donating your body to train future doctors.  This option is often free to the donor, but restrictions might cause bumps–things such as certain cancers, trauma, and even jaundice can disqualify a donor, as can proximity–often you must be 250 miles or closer.   This option does usually allow for returned cremated remains at the end of the process, often years in the future.  If you choose to make this your final plan, be wise and write a Plan B, in case your body is deferred.
  • One popular option in my Central Texas location is the body ranch at Texas State.  We’re lucky to have this facility close, as an option!  Potential donors can be accepted with very few restrictions;  donor families get the satisfaction of knowing their loved ones will help train forensic scientists and law enforcement, which could help crime victims for decades to come.  This does come with downsides, though:  because of the nature of the work, you will get no remains back ever–even after the bodies have done their job decomposing for science, the bones are preserved and kept (along with pictures of the body in life) to help learners train in reconstruction.   Also (and I’ve personally encountered this locally with a client family), because of the nature of the lab (school-based, not privately funded), volunteers are used to retrieve bodies, and pick-up scheduling limitations may require donors to pay for storage costs ahead of the pick up.
  • Another totally free option is whole body donation.   Whole body donation typically involves fewer restrictions or limitations (positive HIV/AIDS status often being one).  Missing pieces are okay–actually, donors are usually encouraged to be organ donors first, and then have the rest of their body given over to whole body donation after the usable organs have been taken.  Bodies in the whole-body program typically are used in component parts for testing and furthering medical knowledge, although details of exactly what are rarely known.   Families of whole body donors do receive cremated remains back, typically weeks to months after the donation.

Curious?  Intrigued?  Looking for a low-cost option?  Looking for a way to make a final difference with your body?  Here are some links that will help you learn more:

Locally, in the Central Texas area, the following are options:

You can read more about your national options here:

What do you think?  Are these alternatives viable options for you or your loved ones?  Does the idea of rotting for science or being used to train and test make it better or worse?

Have questions?  Confused by the options?  Just want to know more?  

Email me, or leave a comment, and let’s talk!

Oh the Places You(r ashes) Will Go!

So, what should I do with these ashes?

Well, there’s always a nice urn (or a thousand) for your mantel–you can even buy them at Costco!  You can bury the ashes, or inter them in a columbarium, like my grandpa and his parents.

Gpa Froude

But what else is there?  Is that all?

Of course not!  

Earlier this spring, I told you about the ability to have them spread in space.

Even further outside the box:

Is there something unique about you that would lend itself to a non-traditional ash usage?  Consider the case of Mark Gruenwald, a comic book editor:

Mark Gruenwald (1953-1996), Marvel Comics editor who died of a fatal heart attack wished to be cremated. He also wanted his ashes to be put into a comic book by mixing them into the ink used for printing one of Marvel’s titles.

The company obliged his request in 1997 and reprinted a 1985 collection of Squadron Supreme with a specially prepared ink that included Gruenwald’s ashes.

In the book’s foreword, his widow Catherine wrote, “He remained true to his passion for comics, as he has truly become one with the story and blended himself in the very fiber of the book.”

(HT: Memorials.com)

There are so many more options other than just scattering out there, in all price ranges.  Only you can know what is truly right for your final send off!  Do think it through (and write it down) now though–you wouldn’t want your ashes to become the albatross around your loved ones’ necks, right?

So Really–What Should I Do for Dad?

In the course of my conversations this week, I visited with a friend whose Dad is fading away due to dementia.  Physically, he’s strong, and will probably plug along for years, but mentally, he’s in decline.
Because of this decline, he left the area of the state where he lived his adult life, and moved closer to my friend, first in her house and then in a care facility (where he currently resides).

As part of catching up, I asked about him, and my friend eventually steered the conversation to asking what to do about his funeral arrangements (as often happens in my world).

Dad owns a plot where Mom is buried, my friend said.  How do I get his body up there?  Who should I call?  Who will bury him?  And what will it cost?

At first, through our conversation, it sounded like my friend was heading toward a direct burial.  Her father is old and because of his mental state hasn’t been able to keep up with relationships or friendships for years, so he’s largely lost all his contacts (the ones who haven’t died themselves) in the hometown, and also has none to speak of in our town.  Direct burial with a small graveside moment for family, without a public service of any sort, easy to plan at a reasonable cost–seemed like a no-brainer.

But as we talked a bit more, I watched my friend wrestle with the choice and the implications of it, aware that she was going against tradition and that beast, Should.   It’s something I see often in my work–we know what a funeral is supposed to look like, so even if it’s not what we want in rational moments, there’s a need of returning to the Should, the Right and Supposed to, when we’re on uncertain, unfamiliar ground, fogged by grief, exhausted by emotion.

My friend struggled for a while as we talked, trying to decide if she wanted to hold a traditional funeral service for her dad in the old town or just bury him quietly.   There were good reasons for (chance to honor dad in his hometown; a parallel to the same service her mother had had years ago) and against (cost of involving two separate entities, the local home to do body care and the hometown one for a funeral service; the potential for low attendance).   Ultimately, she’ll have to weigh the logistics and realities against her understanding of what her extended family will need at the time.  Thankfully, because we’re starting the conversations now, we can explore more detail about pros and cons, and come to a reasonable solution without the pressures of time and emotion crowding the process.

There’s a good reason many of our traditional funeral rites exist–they’re time-tested, and give the community a structure to show respect and support for a grieving family.  Little traditions may not feel significant, may seem like a waste of time and energy and precious cash until you’re in the moment;  it’s hard to know which will be meaningful and be missed for their absence if you abandon them.

All the more reason to think these things through now.  Every time you attend a funeral, observe which of the elements feel important (or superfluous) to you–which are essential and need to happen, which need to be abandoned like that old flip phone.  And since we all know funerals and memorial services are as much about the survivors as the deceased, this is an important conversation to have out loud with the crew who love you–what do they think will matter to their grief?  What would they just as soon not hear/see/do at your funeral?

PS: do I need to remind you that, no matter what you decide, you must write it down??

Rethinking Cremation (or, The Case of the Missing Footprint)

So, I might have told you that my plans for myself and my body involve cremation and scattering–it satisfies my tightwad nature, it makes my minimalist self happy, and it seems as respectful as possible to both the planet AND the people who will have to carry out my desires.

Every now and again, though, there’s a story that makes me think twice for a while, and this very cool discovery is one of those.

The Bronze Age Burial of a Cultic Princess

egtved-textile-belt

An iconic Bronze Age burial from Egtved, Denmark is yielding some surprises. The burial contained the remains of a teenage girl who had died about 3,400 years ago. Now, a new analysis of her hair and nails suggests that the girl may have actually come from very far away.

The article is fascinating–I hope you read it.  It talks about the science they have used to test her clothing, her hair, her teeth, and her nails, and determine that she was in her middle to late teens, had spent the last six months of her life traveling in southern Gerrmany (to include wearing clothing produced in that region), and was likely from that area as well.   Her attire and burial style, well preserved by the conditions of the peat bog, also indicate that she was of some status.

Based on the evidence, the researchers theorize that perhaps she was in a strategic marriage intended to strengthen bonds between the area of her death and her ancestral home.

So, if I’m completely burned up and scattered in two separate bodies of water, what will remain of my time on earth?  

I keep returning to this thought, whether it’s courtesy of a cool science-y article, or stunning cemetery photography, or cool genealogical findings–is it important to me to leave a trace, any trace, behind?

Is it enough that there will likely be digital traces, on this constantly archiving electronic world we call the internet?   Is a Facebook profile, a blog about funerals, and a few email addresses enough of a footprint for me?  Or do I need a little bit more–a name on a wall, a carved stone, a permanent site?

Gpa Froude

Photo courtesy of FindAGrave.com

This is all that remains of my grandfather, my great grandfather, and my great grandmother–three ‘books’ on a shelf in a quiet, cold marble columbarium in Seattle.  I have been there once.  Is this any better or worse than leaving nothing at all?

I still like the idea of being scattered into the elements, and I don’t really see that changing.  But I’m toying with a marker for my scatterings, maybe a simple carved rock that can be thrown out with my ashes in the two designated locations, simply to state

Marilee Froude Parsons was scattered here on thisday.

Born thisday,  died thisday,

This definitely wouldn’t convey heritage or genetic information or any of the other cool things that we now know about Egvedt Girl above.  And something like a rock would be a total happenstance thing to ever be found, given my choices of where I will be scattered, but it would be a trace nevertheless.

Will it be enough to scratch the what will my footprint be itch?   Stay tuned–we shall see!