Thursday, January 23, 2014

Random thoughts about cremation, cancer, and other difficult things

Hank's death has caused us to think sober thoughts about the end of life--his and ours.  Having a sibling die is blessedly a new experience for us, but this experience will be repeated many times over the next 20 years or so--unless we go first.

Hank's body was cremated.  I have always said that I would not want to be cremated.  But where would I be buried?  I didn't want to mingle with the soil of North Carolina.  I guess I feel the same way about Hoosier soil in Indiana.  Hudsonville Cemetery in Michigan where my parents are buried?  Too far away and possibly full anyway according to my sister.  I still find the thought of burning a body repulsive.  My sister said that she could never, ever have had the body of her baby who died over 30 years ago of a massive heart defect cremated.  But the service of internment of Hank's ashes has made me feel it could be a possibility.  His ashes, in a small wooden box, were placed in the vault in the ground at the lovely garden at First Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas.  He has a final resting place there.  Maybe ashes is no worse an end that the rotting of a body.

I have always disliked the phrase about "losing a brave fight to cancer" in so many obituaries.  Last week's NYT published a letter from Dan Cryer, a biographer of Forrest Church, a well known Unitarian Universalist minister who died of esophageal cancer in 2008. Years ago, Jim and I attended his ordination in Boston, Massachusetts because of a mutual friend.  Church wrote, "For me not to fight does not mean to give up.  On the contrary, I embrace my life with more appreciation and affection than ever before.  But fighting death as a full-time preoccupation squeezes out opportunities to embrace life as it is, as it comes, as a miraculous gift."   I hope that when my time comes, I can make good decisions and embrace life.

It is not death I fear; it is the dying and the horrible process so many go through to survive cancer.  And it probably will be cancer that kills us.  A recent article in the news said that deaths from heart attacks and strokes are decreasing and as folks live longer and longer, cancer and Alzheimer's are the killers.

I know I don't want to live in assisted living as Jim's mom does, coping with dementia, hearing loss, and a paranoia that makes life frustrating and sad.  As Jim said upon leaving her facility once, "Eat sausage, not salads!"  Who wants to be 90 under those conditions?

Jim's sister Terri observed from reading obituaries that folks seem to die in their 60s or their 80s.  That may not be statistically true, but I'd like to think we have some good years left!


  1. With Eric's grandparents facing the last years of their lives and the planning that goes along with that, we've been having our own discussions. Most of them center around how we can make our deaths less expensive -- this whole funeral/burying business is a racket! We've also been considering ways to make our burials meaningful, and are attracted to the idea of cremation for the very reasons you mentioned. Then, there's always this idea: :)

    1. Lisa, that is pretty bizarre! Don't let Jim do that to me, please!

  2. Death is inevitable, so it is normal for some to be anxious about how this inevitability would come upon them. In the issue of cancerous cells being the cause of it, that fact isn’t new. This is why we must take care of ourselves really well, and live as healthily as we could, so that we’ll be able to enjoy a long life and peaceful and painless death when the time comes. In any way, thanks for sharing your thought, Mary! That made me reflect a lot about life and death. All the best to you!

    Chastity Gamboa @ Usher Funeral Home