August is my aortaversary month. I spend a good chunk of time contemplating my mortality. Nine years ago I had an aortic dissection and landed in the hospital for 4 months. I came close to biting the big one. I was initially misdiagnosed at a local hospital. Thankfully, at my wife’s insistence I got carted off to some of the best cardiologists, thoracic surgeons, nurses, etc. around, at Swedish Medical Center’s Heart & Vascular Institute in Seattle.
Sleep was a challenge for the first couple months of my time in the hospital. I had to be immobilized and couldn’t do my usual tossing and turning. Instead of counting sheep or counting backwards from 100, I would lay in bed and list off all that I was grateful for. Pam, Claire, Sean, parents, sibs, friends, colleagues, modern medicine, surgeons, nurses, cleaners, physical and occupational therapists, flowers, trees, the Food Network, my dogs…
I also thought a lot about death and dying. I think I lost count of how many times people told me that I was lucky to be alive or some variation. During an early follow-up appointment with my surgeon, the assisting nurses came by to see me. They didn’t get to see many people they operated on, in as bad shape, who made it out of surgery.
So why am I writing a blog on death? For starters, I’m not a big fan of the conventional mortuary business (that is a whole other blog). I don’t want my family stuck with a big bill. Because I don’t want to be embalmed or cremated. FYI – the chemicals used in making Aunt Sally look lifelike for an open casket wake/visitation are a mini Superfund site. The fossil fuel driven process of cremation produces significant amounts of carbon dioxide. One cremation is estimated to produce 535 lbs of Co2. Bottom line: I Care About God’s Creation.
The essential primer is Mallory McDuff’s book, Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End Of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love. To me the best introduction to green, natural, conservation burial. Another good place to start is the Green Burial Council.
The accompanying photo is from Larkspur Conservation in Westmoreland, Tennessee. “Larkspur is a Conservation Burial Ground. A protected Green space dedicated to natural burial. With each burial the land is restored, contributing green space for the community to explore, clean air, and clean water.” Check out NPR’s episode on Larkspur and “casket optional” burying grounds. I’m hoping for something like Larkspur in the Central Cascades. Instead of hoping I might need to start buying lottery tickets.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu had a huge impact on my life. During the waning days of apartheid, while on the staff of All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, California, I headed up an anti-apartheid and solidarity program in conjunction with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, while the Arch was the Archbishop of Cape Town. I have many fond memories of his steadfast leadership, joie de vivre, and living example of Ubuntu. One of Father Desmond’s many last best acts was a plain pine box and alkaline hydrolysis or aquamation. That simple act has led countless others to reconsider their last acts.
Along with green burial and aquamation I’m checking out human composting. The leader in human composing is Recompose based in Seattle. They have teamed up with Washington State University Soil Science Department to prove that recomposition is a safe and effective means of disposition for humans. I’m going on a tour of the Recompose facility later this month. It’s 2.5 miles from the Seattle Mariners stadium, so it will be a doubleheader, for me at least.
Not sure how to end this. Guess I need to make a decision: aquamation, compost or green burial. In the meantime a little Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson and Lay Me Down.