“Here are the years that walk between …” — T.S. Eliot
Burn me, fine. Everyone seems to be onboard for that. Fan the flames. Stoke the temperature up to about 1,600º Fahrenheit and shove me in the oven for an hour. Then sweep into a cremulator (yep, that’s the actual word) whatever is left behind. Pulverize this for twenty minutes.
What comes next is the bone-fragment of contention. My instructions, which I hope not to have to deploy any time soon, are as follows:
1. Place the sealed cardboard box that contains my ashes inside a paper bag.
2. Drop the paper bag in a garbage bin and wheel it out to the street.
3. Go back to your life.
Could anything be simpler? Evidently many things could be simpler. I seem to be in a running debate with several friends as to the unsuitability of such a request. It would be, they tell me, disrespectful of the wishes of my loved ones. Could someone please explain to me then what my Last Will and Testament is for? Convinced all this while that it was for declaring my wishes, I “executed” it specifically to insure that my wishes not be obliterated by the spurious, tangential interests of others.
No, they say, there must be a ceremony; friends must — whatever — hold hands and read aloud piffle that they’ve written for the occasion, or recount droll anecdotes; following which my ashes will be scattered on water, or in a wood, or from a cliff. Maybe from a wooded cliff into water. One of these friends, I kid you not, tendered the word “closure.”
Could my opinion possibly come as a surprise to — how should I phrase this? — to anyone who knows me? (Let alone anyone who gives a jack crap what I think.) Ceremonies make my skin crawl. A ceremony is, among other things, a means of forgetting: by creating an artifice of ritual we place direct feeling at a safe, non-threatening distance.
What is significant or true or moving needn’t be, shouldn’t be, subsumed into platitude. It’s precisely the “threat” that needs safeguarding. We live in a world in which it is possible, barely, to state facts but not truths. The one thing that ought to commend the importance of stating truths is the imminent, unavoidable certainty that your own paltry life will soon be extinguished. Meanwhile, if you want to squander your precious time by honoring my memory, please don’t do that by staging a group sniffle-fest that I would find not only revolting but, worse, banal.
Instead, use that time to read Coriolanus front to back. Or ride your bicycle at midnight under a full moon. Or sing of human unsuccess. Please don’t waste it by flicking scorched chunks of my skeletal calcium from some windy mountaintop. To honor the memory of a dead friend or companion, the only obligation — from my point of view — is to reject the anodyne outright.
Death, I would argue, is sufficient closure. If you require some special, personal trivialization of loss, do it on your own time with your own fucking ashes. Leave mine out of it. Or, rather, leave them at the curb on a Tuesday night.
An addendum: So much palaver! Everyone calm down — it’s all about me. I meant not to impugn anyone else’s choices about his or her demise. Do whatever you want with your remains; plan whatever festivals you deem appropriate.
And another, to clear up still more puzzlement: “Sing of human unsuccess” is from Auden, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.”