When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Cadavers wanted

One of the people who responded to Claire Rayner's dilemma (see last post) suggested that since Claire had been a nurse she was surprised she hadn't considered donating her body to science, avoiding the need for a conventional funeral.

Now, why didn't I think of that? I've got the forms to donate my body to a teaching hospital near here - must get around to filling them in.

There's a shortage of cadavers, so medical students are not being given the opportunity to dissect real bodies, which isn't good.

After dissection, the bodies aren't simply discarded - they're cremated, with a committal ceremony attended by medical staff. A friend who died last year donated her body to science. Her family received a lovely thank you letter from the medical school, and a copy of the committal service address.

To donate your body, see the link on the right.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Claire Rayner's dilemma

Past-President of the BHA Claire Rayner wrote an article for today's Observer about her funeral plans. She'd left instructions 'that my family cremate me to the sound of New Orleans funeral jazz and follow that with a party with lots of champagne, much laughter and cheerful reminiscence, climaxing with the most splendid of firework displays and my ashes whooshing up in the last big rocket.'

Mmm. I remember hearing about an ex-RAF type who left instructions that his ashes should be scattered from a plane. They were, and then they all blew back into the plane, which had to be thoroughly gone over with a dust pan and brush when it landed.

I've written to the Observer as follows:

Claire Rayner's rocket may not get very far ('Should I go out with a bang or be a bit greener?') as many party venues won't allow fireworks unless you pay a stonking insurance premium. It sounds like a good idea, to leave instructions about parties and laughter after you're dead, but it can all fall horribly flat. I've done lots of funerals as a humanist celebrant and I'm sometimes asked for advice about funeral and post-funeral arrangements by the terminally ill or the tidy, like Claire. I tell people to resist the temptation to leave instructions about parties and the like - if they want a party, they'll have one, but some families find that striving to follow their dear departed's instructions makes a stressful situation even more stressful, especially if the practicalities haven't been thought through. When a relative died earlier this year she left a list that included a party with fireworks (we ended up with sparklers because of the insurance problem) and karaoke. Quite a few guests left early, feeling uncomfortable about the enforced jollity.

As for environmental considerations - Cardboard coffins are OK for burials, but some crematoria don't like them because they burn too fast, igniting before the cremator doors are closed, which upsets the staff. It's true there aren't many green burial sites yet, but there'll be more if there's a demand; some plans have been abandoned because of nimby planning objections. Maybe the Swedes have the right idea; the town of Jonkoping will offer freeze-dried burials by 2007. Bodies will be frozen in liquid nitrogen then broken into dust (like coffee granules) that can be dug into your garden or given a shallow burial, pushing up daisies within weeks. If Claire can hang on for a few more years, maybe there'll be something similar in the London area?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Only the Best

George Best’s funeral was yet another OTT display of sentimentalised mass ‘mourning’. I switched on the TV while it was on, and could have sworn I heard the commentator say that the crowds lining the funeral route were applauding ‘at the family’s request’. Applause is supposed to be spontaneous, isn’t it? What next? ‘The family wishes you to weep and wail'? Give me strength!

I emailed the BBC to complain about the frequency of reports on George’s dying, along the lines of ‘He’s not quite dead yet,’ ‘He’s still dying,’ ‘His family has gathered by his bedside, but he’s still not dead.’ It was as bad as the last Pope’s demise. I asked if this would be the pattern whenever a celebrity was dying in future. Please, I wrote, tell us he’s ill, then tell us he’s dead – leave the rest out.

At the funeral in Stormont Castle, Northern Irish TV presenter and football fan Eamonn Holmes said, ‘No mere mortal could do what he did on the pitch…’ OK, so if he wasn’t a ‘mere mortal’, how’d he manage to wreck two livers?