Preparatory Notes for an Atheist’s Death October 23, 2008

Preparatory Notes for an Atheist’s Death

Reader Paul has been preparing his will and other legal documents just in case anything should happen to him.

He sent along his Memorial Preferences stating his final wishes.

For whatever reason, the religious folks in his family are none-too-happy about it…

I personally like sections 5 and 6(c):

Memorial Preferences

1. Notification:

Please notify [People to Notify] at the time of my death.

2. Funeral Home/Director:

Arrangements have not been made in advance for funeral services. Please contact the least financially burdensome funeral director or facility to complete my final arrangements.

3. Post-mortem Examination:

If it is elective, I prefer that there not be an autopsy performed on my body; it’s a rubber glove phobia, really.

4. Treatment of Body:

Once I am dead, I am dead and the body is irrelevant. I only ask to be treated with the dignity and honor deserving of a human.

5. Disposition of Remains:

I prefer that my remains be handled as follows: Cremation. Then spread my ashes either in the Atlantic Ocean or in a stream in the Appalachian Mountains. Put me in an urn and I will haunt you for making me into a mantelpiece.

6. Services:

Following are my wishes concerning holding various kinds of services:

a. Funeral — Funerals or for the living. I only desire that my funeral is not of any religious nature and that no passages of the Bible be read or quoted or any religious songs be sung. I do not believe in or wish to be remembered in a religious sense.

b. Memorial Service — Only if the living desire.

c. Wake — Drink to memory. If when I pass I leave a legacy of fond remembrance, drink heartily to my memory and then go off and have a good shag. No better legacy could I leave.

d. Visitation: If the living desire to see an ash pile, so be it.

7. Flowers, Memorial Funds, Donations:

If remembering me stimulates the local floral trade, so be it. I like florists, nice people.

What do you think?

Would any of this even matter, since Paul would be gone, anyway?

I’d like for my body/organs to be donated. And the family can do whatever they’d like; it’s not like it would matter to me anymore.

Also, if you haven’t heard it yet, comedian David Cross offers an interesting (rated-R) take on death

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I think it’s totally appropriate to express wishes about what kind of funeral you want. It’s your last chance to express yourself — I definitely want to take it. (I’ve expressed my wishes in my blog, but it’s probably a good idea to put it in a legal form.)

    I’m puzzled, though, by the desire for no autopsy. If he thinks that “once he’s dead, he’s dead and the body is irrelevant,” why would he care about his rubber glove phobia? It’s not like he’s going to be there to be given the heebie-jeebies.

    I love the bit about the urn, though.

  • sc0tt

    I propose writing out a scope of services for the Funeral Home/Director contract and instruct one’s loved ones to put it out for a competitive bid.

    These kinds of instructions are very helpful to the family who may otherwise be too distraught or conflicted to make simple decisions.

  • I’ve been torn on this issue. I’m an atheist, but my wife, her family, and my family are all christian. If I don’t make any advance preparations, there will probably be a religious service or two at my death. And I don’t like that.

    However, as David Cross says, I’ll be dead, so what does it really matter?

    As a living human, I’d prefer to go to an event at an Ethical Society or on a mountaintop to one in a church. However, since I won’t know what they are saying, do I really care?

    Haven’t figured this one out yet.

  • Pockets

    I think that the practical logical side of me would agree with David Cross in that I will be dead, so I don’t care. Ill put that on to the religious side of it, if my family decides that they want religion there, at this point in my life, it doesn’t bother me. I do either want to be cremated or donated to science (or organs)depending on “my” condition. Mainly because of the costs of cremation versus burial. I do like the idea of a wake though, and I think it would be fitting of my personality.

  • I’m completely in favor of stating one’s funereal intentions–clearly, repeatedly, as far in advance as possible, and ideally in writing. (I’d also like to have some sort of multimedia “memento mori” to hand out to the attendees, with favorite music and quotes, family photos and movies, etc.)

    “Drink heartily and have a good shag”…I love it!

    (Oh, and GC…that’s some great stuff on your blog. Thanks much!)

  • Wes

    I want my body to be donated to science. I figure somebody oughta get some good use of it after I die. Dressing up a corpse in fancy clothes and burying it is wasteful. If science doesn’t want it, make dog food out of it or something. Pretty much the only thing I care about regarding what happens after I die is that my corpse doesn’t just become another piece of waste taking up space on this planet. Do something useful with it.

    I frankly don’t care if people pray over me after I’m dead, seeing as I’ll be dead and gone. I don’t really care, while I’m living, what ceremonies people do over me after I die. Also, I want my friends and family to be happy when I’m not around, so whatever works for them is what matters as far as that goes. If praying over my carcass makes them feel better, so be it (being dead, I’ll have no say in it, and any opinions I might have had while alive would be moot, seeing as I’m dead.) I don’t see why anyone should care about my former opinions when it comes time to decide how to do my funeral.

    So I guess you could say I’m only concerned about the arrangements following my death insofar as my death might be able to benefit someone else. They’re the ones who are alive and conscious, so it would be their benefit that matters, not mine.

  • I think these thing matters if you care. He’s right, these things are for the living so I guess it matters if you care how the living remember you.

  • Yeah I don’t see the point in cremation, I’ve already got my donor card filled out, so someone gets to scavenge my body for any useful parts.

  • Louis Doench

    “I want my body to be donated to science”
    Not good enough, I want MY body donated to Mad Science! I want to be brought back so I can terrorize the local villagers! Or maybe be a Brain in a Jar.
    I have a good friend who insists that we have him mounted and stuffed so he can sit in the corner and watch TV.

  • Catherine

    I haven’t given this a lot of serious thought. Mostly, I just hope that people would come together and talk about the stuff they remember about me. And I hope that I will have lived the sort of life that would give them lots of good things to remember about me.

  • Sounds perfect.

    The religious can go to church after the death and they’ll be fine.

  • Vincent

    Can I request the mob to bury my body in a shallow grave where nobody will find it?
    I think that’s the most environmentally friendly way for my remains to be returned to the planet.

    The insistence that no bible verse be said made me think – wouldn’t it be more fun if you had some wacky bible verse read? Like the one about god sending bears to slaughter the children for making fun of a bald man. I think I’m going to make a list of such stories from various religions and ask they be read at my funeral 🙂

  • Richard Wade

    Paul is trying to find a balance. He is right in that funerals are for the living, and so what his loved ones need to comfort themselves should be encouraged. However, balancing that is the fact that what does persist after our death is people’s memories of us as well as whatever effect, for good or ill, we have had on others.

    Paul, who seems to be a realist, clearly wants his loved ones to heal after their grief, but I think he also wants to be remembered accurately, as he actually lived and he actually thought, rather than in the religious fantasies that some of his survivors might be tempted to do. So he’s trying to have a limited amount of input to allow for the consolling of his friends and family, while preserving a realistic legacy of memories, reflecting the realistic way he saw life.

  • RNB

    Exactly agree with Greta C (I often do:)

    My blog too is my will, in addition to proposing odd new theories, it expresses clearly what I think of death, for example quoting directly from it:

    But when I am gone, do whatever you like with my body. Cut it, burn it, sell it, whatever. Please just wait until I’m dead first.

  • justin jm

    I would like my body donated to science. Or maybe I could be mummified and displayed in the Museum of Awesome (joking).

    As for money, I don’t have much, so that is not my primary concern. I am against having a religious service or prayers at my funeral.

    On second thought, I wonder if any scientific organizations would take my body sans important organs (donated to others after death).

  • ddr

    I agree that people should have something like this. When someone dies, the family will often feel they have to spend a lot of money to give you a nice send off of some kind. I would rather that they do something modest. Cremation and a simple service. Then take the money and go on a nice cruise.

    And, yeah, I think I want a completely non-meaningful bible verse read. Leviticus 11:10 I think. The one about not eating shell fish. I never liked shell fish.

  • Can I request the mob to bury my body in a shallow grave where nobody will find it? I think that’s the most environmentally friendly way for my remains to be returned to the planet.

    You can do the next best thing, Vincent: a green burial. They bury you in what amounts to a nature preserve, with no embalming or airtight casket. And since the laws about cemeteries are pretty strict, it’s a good way to ensure that the land will stay undeveloped.

    That’s what I want to do do. After my organs have been harvested, of course.

    Although I have to admit that I love Louis Doench’s idea of donating my body to Mad Science…

  • Wings

    Okay, Louis Doench, that is my new favorite quote: “I want MY body donated to Mad Science!”


  • Emily

    I’ve had a living will since I was about 12.

    At 18, perhaps I should work on that will, though my parents and brothers are all very secular folk and would likely do little in the way of religi-cizing my funeral etc.

    I do want a drinking fountain that doesn’t work built in my name somewhere. I’ll be remembered for all time by thirsty joggers…”Curse you EMILY!”

    ahhhh 😀

  • ungullible

    I share David Cross’s sentiment, with one exception. While I couldn’t possibly be offended by anything that’s done with my carcass, why not perform one last beneficial act and donate it? If one ounce of my flesh is in good health and can benefit someone as an organ donor, then that is my first preference. After that, then I’d like to donate it to science, whether that be to medical students for dissection, or crime research that studies decomposition rates in various situations.

  • It’s pretty damn arrogant to try and make demands on people after one is already dead. Paul said one thing that I agree with: funerals are for the living, not for the dead. After I’m gone, I’m seriously not going to care what you do. Knock yourselves out. Do whatever you want. Spend $25,000 on a lavish funeral, or wrap my body in baling wire, attach a few concrete blocks and drop me in the river. It’s not gonna make no never mind to me.

  • Luther Weeks

    I would donate any useful organs to the living.

    And insist on a humanist/atheist symbol such as an evolvefish on my headstone.

    Have memorial event/party: Have anyone who wants to come, speak what they will, and then have a nice party.

    And remind everyone that they will die, but in the meantime, consider the possibility of joining me as one who has lived.

  • Julie Marie

    I agree, funerals, or any other post – death events, are for the living. And that is what I’ve told my family. Aside from donating any organs that are useable, they may do whatever suits them. I’d prefer cremation, but if, when it comes down to it, that gives them the heebie jeebies, and they want to do something else, fine. Whatever will make it least horrible for my son is okey dokey with me.

    I couldn’t follow through with the plan to sprinkle my mom’s cremains over the VA mts and ocean. When I sat in the kitchen with that small box, I couldn’t see myself letting her ashes run through my fingers. I found a cemetary in the country bounded by a state park, and bought a site under a large tree. (why a box of cremains needs shade ~ well, it just made me feel better). My stepdad was hesitant at first, saying he’d never opposed her in life, he didn’t know about opposing her now. My reasoning was this: I wasn’t being disrespectful, and it would upset me terribly to go through with plan A. Even thinking about plan A made me cry. I know my mom would have been in favor of whatever suited her girls. She had a memorial service, and then, months later (took me awhile to find the spot under the tree, there’s quite a few cemeteries in Richmond!) we had a very small burial. It worked for us. And I wrote her epitaph: “Embraced Life with Love”

  • Richard Wade

    When my wife and I agreed that we wanted our bodies cremated, she said she’d like her ashes sprinkled in a rose garden, but the one she likes probably doesn’t allow such a thing. I reassured her that I’d spread them around even if I had to have the stuff fall out of my pants like the tunnel dirt in “The Great Escape.”

    When she asked about my ashes I said I’d like them buried at sea. She said, “Oh like by the Neptune Society?” I said, “Nah, too expensive. Just flush them down the toilet. They’ll get there eventually.” 😉

  • Number 3 is jarringly irrational and I seriously hope he reconsiders.

    Personally, if it were even an option, I wouldn’t want to be cremated (think of the atmosphere, people! cremation releases a lot of CO2!) or buried (we bury bodies too deep, it takes way, way too long for them to decompose). After any useful organs and tissues were harvested, I would want my body to simply be laid out for scavengers to eat and decompose (or tossed in a body of water for the same purpose). It’s the most natural and environmentally friendly way to deal with a dead body. If my family wanted a memorial place they should set it up someplace that I loved or that they connect with me. Definitely not a churchyard.

    Now I don’t think Sweden’s quite as crazy as the US when it comes to open casket burials, fancy clothes and coffins and all that, but given that there’s a huge trend with crazy white wedding ceremonies with bridesmaids and all that lately I suspect it’s only a matter of time.

  • My father wants his remains to be “thrown in a skip” that way the council can dispose of his remains. He doesn’t want us to pay a penny for his death. So be it.

    I used to want to be left out for the animals to eat my remains. It’s a shame that the worms and bugs get all the juicy bits. Apparently though this just isn’t done.

    My unwife has bought a grave plot in a sustainable land development so my corpse is getting chucked in a hole when I die. I’m opting for an old sheet to wrap me in or maybe a wicker coffin depending on how moist I am when they chuck me in.

    Religion is only permitted if they play canned laughter in the background. I’ve already decided on the background music for the service: “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. Hil already chose Blue Oyster Cult, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”.

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    Paul here,

    Ok, everyone seems to have problem with 2 items. Cremation and the autopsy thing. Let me explain my thinking. Cremation, its an inexpensive option for the family and my family ain’t rich. I don’t see myself leaving huge assets either. I spend too much. I have no objection to donation to science, I like it in fact. I just don’t, at this time, have any real knowledge of the procedure. To say I want to be donated to science is fine but I have to find a path to make it happen. I’m not dead and I can change the documents.

    Autopsy, I don’t care what happens to the body. I care about the living. When my brother died, they did an autopsy and the ME insisted on showing my sister the pictures and she was traumatized by it. If its not necessary, don’t. You can call that shockingly irrational if you will. The glove thing was a joke… I’m a chronic smart ass as if you couldn’t tell.

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    Paul again,

    Oddly enough no one has a problem with me wanting everyone to get drink and go shag. Weird, the family is none to pleased with that. *laughing* Well, eulogies from my wife, girl friend and boy friend won’t go over too well either.

  • Jen

    I think that I would want an autopsy if there was a need for one. Seriously, now, don’t you want the murderer caught? Then you can be on Forensic Files, which I love. And in reading Stiff, I realize the importance of donating your body to science, as there have been so many important things that can be learned from shooting, blowing up, slicing, or performing plastic surgery on the corpse. Slice me, dice me- and I want weeping from the gallery.

  • Dysentery

    It irritates me with how much money it costs for a funeral nowadays. You can’t get away with anything remotely reasonable anymore. The last two funerals I was involved with were between 8 and 10 thousand each. Rediculous. You know things are bad when they are now CHARGING for you to donate your body.

  • John

    Most cities have a Memorial Society that arranges for reasonably priced cremations and funerals.

    I’m a member of the Chicago Memorial Society and, at last check, a cremation and simple urn cost about $500.

  • Richard Wade

    Paul, I think the thing about you that will be the most remembered and most missed is your humor. 🙂

  • nick

    “shag” in the UK means something different to what I think he’s referring to here! Funny.

  • Eh. Funerals are for the living. I used to have a list similar to Paul’s but I deleted it after going to someone’s funeral.

    She wasn’t overtly religious, but there were religious overtones to the ceremony for her largely religious family. If my family want to comfort themselves with the thought of what a good soul I was, so be it.

    Although I have stipulated that my organs will be donated. And if medical research wants my body they can have it.

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