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Discussing the inevitability of death

By T.J. Ray

A circle on a calendar usually marks a special day. And folks make long-range plans to make that day special. Birthdays, weddings, graduations trigger attention to the smallest detail. Circumstances may interfere and require a rescheduling of an event.

But there is one day that is never circled, and the moment can’t be changed.

Some topics are absent in casual conversation. If one of them slips into the talking, an adjustment of attitude often occurs. It is, whether we want to discuss it or not, the inevitability of death. Then may follow a recital of the expected or recent funeral. My guess is that most folks unconsciously avoid talking about this subject.

Perhaps some prior arrangements might relieve some of the difficulty or pain of the passing of a loved one or friend. A lack of planning, quite understandable in the case of a sudden death, may add to the pain of the survivors. At that point, the usual response is a call to a local funeral home.

Very soon, sometimes before the departed person has been moved, the funeral home will send representatives, who will answer questions and review options. Among the decisions to be made will be examining details of the coffin and the funeral service. At that point, the fact that taking care of our loved ones after they have left us may be more than a tribute to them — it may be a financial difficulty for the survivors.

Consider what might transpire long before those painful post-mortem moments.

Knowing that there is an end to life, the family and friends might well plan ahead.

Decisions about burial versus cremation versus body donation might be reached.

If burial is the choice, then the family may choose to go and discuss possibilities with the funeral home folks. All sorts of choices must be made then, including the place of burial.

If the decision is that the person will be cremated, different decisions must be made, including what will be done with the ashes. If body donation is selected, then the family will make plans with the medical school to which the donation is being made.

Most folks can share tales of painful passings, but some might recount almost joyful leave takings. Those latter follow careful planning and understanding of what will happen after that penultimate moment of life for a loved one. Then it becomes more a going home than a going away.

Many years ago someone told me about the University of Mississippi body donation program. My wife and son agreed to make that choice, and so it was done. When the time came, the nursing home called the Med Center and soon a fellow came and took my wife away. After some time had passed, we held a memorial service at the church.

Far more a happy time of “Remember when …” than sadness. In time her ashes will be returned and interred at the church.

Our digital world has yet to produce that creation that most medical students need to study most to treat us best — the human body. The Med Center says this: “The human body is an invaluable and indispensable aid in medical education. A fundamental basis of all medical knowledge relates to a thorough understanding of human anatomy which can be learned only by a study of the human body.”

Further along are these words: “In the past, the majority of bodies used for anatomical study were those of unwanted and unclaimed indigents allocated by law to medical institutions. Today, however, most people can afford conventional funeral procedures, and there is government aid available for the few who need financial assistance.”

Having made this choice myself, may I encourage you to consider it also. Contact the Med Center for their Ultimate Gift Brochure. The email is bodydonation@umc.edu. The phone number is 601-984-1649.

Families usually take the time to indicate beneficiaries on insurance policies and who the heirs of estates will be. Why not go one step further and plan for that closing of life?

TJ Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.