There is one thing you can be sure of and that is that death comes to us all. Its not something I particularly worry about, what will be, will be. Obviously in an ideal world I’d like to go quietly discretely and without knowing in my sleep. I’d be discovered not by a close relative so as I dont traumatize them, but by someone I knew and liked. However I go, my funeral arrangements are likely to be something that my children or husband have to deal with.
The other day I was reading a newspaper report which featured some of my former employers and the archaeological graves they were excavating. It wasn’t a great report about it all, basically stating that these archaeologists had left skeletons in their graves exposed for weeks on end. This was not very respectful of them.
This got me thinking about what I might like to happen to me, when I die. For years and years I thought I might like to be buried, for someone to possibly come along and dig me up. As a child I considered the possibility of mummification in a magnificent tomb. How wonderful and somehow glamorous. You sometimes read of noble people who give their body to medical science. I can say now that after living with some medical students, I do not fancy this option.
I am a specialist in archaeological bone. I’ve handled a lot of dead humans in the form of skeletons. Ive dug hundreds of them up during the course of my career. I’ve seen a lot of bits of dead human with flesh preserved in places like the Hunterian Museum, and even better the bits of the collection reserved for scientists. I don’t think I will ever forget the sectioned human torso.
The Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford has a wonderful collection of human shrunken heads. How gory is that? You detach yourself from these things, they are merely objects, you cant think of them living, breathing humans, people who had emotions because then you start to have weird thoughts. I once accidentally broke a human skull, it made a popping sound. It sounded like the soul was leaving. It freaked me out.
Throughout history people have death with dead bodies in hundreds of ways; mummification, burial at sea, laying bodies out for birds to pick at the flesh and then arranging the bones neatly under stone mounds, at crossroads, in huge monuments, on funeral pyres, in whole cars, the list is endless. There are whole days of celebration of the dead, events when people are resurrected and marched about the town.
Talking to my 70 year old friend about her hopes for her remains was enlightening. She has decided to be buried in a woodland graveyard within a wicker basket. It feels right for her, peaceful and natural. I like this idea, it seems right to go back to the earth like this. However, most people want to be buried in a huge hard wood casket in the council cemetery with a stone marker. This does not feel right.
The more I think about it, the more I would like something natural. I quite like the idea of cremation, which is a complete sea change for me. This would mean that nothing else could happen to me. However, did you know that in most cremation places they burn two bodies at the same time? You could be cremated with the fat bloke up the road and his ashes mixed with yours and then divided up between relatives. No thanks. This then leaves a dilemma, since I don’t think your friends and relatives would be able to burn you in the back garden without controversy.
Speaking of back gardens I found out a few years ago that it is entirely possible to be buried in your back garden. We had a spate of modern ceramic jars brought into the museum which people had found in gardens. Its possible some had contained cremations, so I did a bit of research into it. Check when you buy a new house! Or even better if you pick this option, how about considering an eco-friendly urn like these ones.
So, I haven’t answered my question. I quite like the idea of my friends and family celebrating my life with a picnic on my favourite beach (Holkham) and then throwing my ashes out to sea. I would like to hope that they didn’t get blown straight back at them, although its so windswept there I think they might. I would like the event to be a happy one, a celebration of my life and for them to know that I will always be there to keep an eye on them. It’s just how they cremate me alone which may be the problem
If you feel you can, I would be really interested to hear your thoughts.