It’s Easter, and although Jesus might have the miraculous ability to resurrect, we’re not so lucky. Us mere mortals, who are decidedly less prone to coming back from the dead, have to explore some other alternatives.
There’s the more traditional burial, a coffin or casket, and dirt. For the rich and important, maybe a mausoleum to rival the likes of the Taj Mahal. For more casual folks, maybe a sky burial instead. Typically a Tibetan Buddhist practice, which believes our bodies are empty vessels after death, a sky burial aims to dispose of our remains as generously as possible. In an act that’s reminiscent of Mufasa’s “Circle of Life” speech in Lion King, the body is left on a mountaintop to decompose, eaten by scavenging animals.
Unfortunately, such practices take space, a commodity that we have precious little of in modern society. This explains the increasing popularity of cremation. The body is incinerated in a 1000 degree furnace, and if no explosions occur (due to untoward materials left in the body), the dry remains are pulverised and the ashes are neatly packaged and returned to the family to do with what they will. Done and dusted.
Yet, there are more interesting ways to be kept post-mortem than in an urn. Companies will send a portion of your ashes, amongst others, into space where it can orbit the Earth for a few months before burning up on reentry – all while being monitored on an app and livestreamed by loved ones.
As for the rest, why destroy when you can create? Like a literal phoenix you can be reborn as the nutrients for a tree. Labs can personally extract carbon from your ashes to grow a diamond or even graphite. As a pencil, you could be the tools for the next Michelangelo… or you could be used to do maths homework.
For the more scientifically inclined, science likes you in both life and death. There is of course, organ donation and donation to scientific research, but there are body farms too. Newly opened and hidden in a secret location in Sydney, researchers gather data on the effects of the Australian climate on the decomposition process. Entomologists observe the life cycles of insects to refine time of death estimates and forensic scientists try to capture the odour of decay for police dogs to track. It’s not a glamorous process by any means, but it is for science.
On the less gory side, science promotes self-love too. You can see your body immortalised in all of its beauty in the downward dog pose through plastination. The fat and water in your system is replaced by plastics and the preserved result neither smells nor decays. For a full-body plastination, it takes 1000 to 1500 man hours. If that’s not flattering for the dead, I don’t know what is. Of course, the goal is to educate the public about health and anatomy, but a little after death exhibitionism at a museum never hurt anyone.
You might not choose to die, but you can definitely choose what happens after you die.