I think I have mentioned before my revulsion for some standard practices with dead humans: embalming with toxic chemicals, burial in elaborate coffins, and efforts to isolate corpses from the outside world through concrete burial vaults and similar.
All that runs fundamentally against my self-understanding as one animal in all the multitude of nature. When my time comes â€” and I hope it won’t be for many years â€” I would like to be buried in as little as possible, for instance in just a cotton or linen wrapping, in a place where the molecules of my body will become the bodies of plants and animals and return to the great circulation that has been ongoing for billions of years. This would be after any usable organs or tissues have been donated.
Any kind of religious ceremony would be an insult to my conviction that those who think the universe or ethics can only be explained via the supernatural have no evidence to support their case. I would appreciate a gathering of friends which should be pleasant and well-catered, maybe a few musical performances: Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” has been a long-time favourite and is well suited, as is Radiohead’s “Exit Music”. A bit of AntonÃn DvoÅ™Ã¡k’s “New World Symphony” would speak to being Czech and North American. Mourners should have a snootful of a decent whisky, beer, or wine while listening to the music.
If one or more people want to “speak my death” in the Orson Scott Card sense of the words, I hope they won’t choose flattery or comfort over honesty.1
An advance directive to address the horror of being alive but unable to reason or communicate would also be prudent for me. The simple version is: if there is no prospect of a reasonable quality of life and my life is being sustained by external means like a medical ventilator, I would prefer for those means to be discontinued. If I end up in some sort of long-term vegetative state, I would be grateful for a never-ending stream or loop of folk music played at a suitable volume through headphones.
1. Anybody wanting to do this, including my parents and brothers but also any other people who I have met and any strangers to me, should perhaps read the first two books in Orson Scott Card’s Ender series. I definitely do not endorse the author’s politics, but I like his ruthlessly honest concept for a death ritual.