My thoughts on the subject of death have crystalized over four decades of adulthood. I now know what I want to have done with my body after I die. Since I am a part-time sailor, if my body is recovered by my family, then cremation is my choice. If my body is lost at sea, then nature will have taken care of it. This brief essay reviews the reasons for my decision.
Tombstones have served an important purpose in the history of man. Many were placed as a sort of “quasi-shrine” for the grieving family to remember and honor the dearly departed. Additionally, they obviously provide a marker of where a body was buried. Further, they provide information on whose body was buried there a well as family connections, sometimes merely by their proximity to other gravesites. People doing research on their ancestors have found headstones to be invaluable sources of information. This is because written records were often not kept, especially in rural communities, or for those without church affiliation. Or they were lost due to fire or other damage. While there is no guarantee the information on a tombstone is accurate, the responsible party at the time likely thought it was.
In America today accurate paper and digital records of the population prevail, often in multiple forms across multiple government agencies. So there is no need to have one’s body buried to ensure a headstone will exist as proof of one’s time on earth. If one opts to be cremated and have their ashes scattered, then there is no need to even mark where a body is buried. Lastly, after a few generations have passed, who will come to the quasi-shrine to grieve? To be sure, graves make poor legacies.
As a case in point, I know where my grandparents and my parents are buried. However, I seldom visit their graves. When I do it is to pay my respects – a side effect of the quasi-shrine ritual we all are accustomed to. In the case of my grandparents, while I knew all four of them when I was young, I really didn’t know them well. The thing is, there is nothing I can do now – including visiting their gravesites – that will help me know them better. So why visit their gravesites? Except for showing my progeny where their headstones are located, I have no other reason. My respects have all been paid.
As for my parents, I naturally knew them pretty well. They played a big role in my life, especially when I was growing up. Still, I don’t have a need to visit their gravesite. I think the reason is because throughout my adult life I have treated them well while they were alive. Frankly, now that they are dead I don’t think they have a care in the world. I certainly hope not. Obviously, I’m not religious, nor even very spiritual. I am perhaps a bit cynical, for when I see a person take flowers to a gravesite, I can’t help but wonder if they are doing so to honor the buried, or perhaps just trying to make amends.
I’d like to have my ashes scattered in either Charlotte Harbor (FL) or the Gulf of Mexico. Years ago, I travelled to Australia for a month (a bucket list adventure) and thought I would like to have my ashes scattered over the Great Barrier Reef. Since then, however, I’ve come to visit Charlotte Harbor often and have gotten to know the Gulf of Mexico. I think either one of these would be fine. And if my body is lost at sea, then I’ll end up in the water anyway. As I understand it, isn’t that where we all came from?