As we contemplate our lives on land while breathing the air, I am curious to know the why of your want in death.


Will you choose cremation and the sky?

Or do you prefer burial and the earth?

Are life and death connected for all of eternity — or are they required by their very nature to be forever separate?

36 Comments

  1. Cremation is my choice.
    To be released into the air – into the universe from whence I came.
    Letting the spirit free – rather than entombing it.
    (We will also run out of room to bury us all at the rate our population levels are increasing.)
    Death is part of the cycle of life.
    As soon as you are born – death is inevitable – what is not known is how long the interlude called life is in between the two.
    I wish we could remove the fear and taboo of death – it is not talked about nearly enough.

  2. After seeing your rather bleak first picture – I so wish I had taken a photograph of my mother at rest in the chapel of rest – such serenity and grace as opposed to the bleak picture you have chosen.

  3. I’ve pre-paid for cremation. I heard once that here in Phoenix, Arizona more than 80% choose cremation over traditional burial in a cemetary plot. The rationale for all of this cremation is that because there are so many people “from somewhere else”, cremation makes the costs associated with transporting back to the state where most family may remain a much more viable option (shipping a body as opposed to taking the cremains along as one would with carry-on luggage).
    My personal decision to be cremated comes from the inherent belief that cremation is more natural, eliminating the need to use precious land resources to let a body return to the earth. I also did not wish to burden those left behind with a feeling of responsibility or duty to maintain and visit a grave site which holds only the body or shell of the life that was, and not the true soul of the one that is now gone. I will be cremated with my cremains scattered along the trails I have hiked many times in beautiful Sedona, Arizona. Thank you for sharing your interest.

  4. Welcome to Urban Semiotic, christophersmark!
    How do you answer those who believe they were made from the dust of the earth? Are we in some way negating that idea of creation by running from it rather than returning to it?
    Choosing where a body belongs or where the cremains remain is a sticky issue in many disparate and broken families.

  5. In answer to your first question – neither land nor air – Water.
    It may be different but it is still part of the cycle .
    There is no doubt that your image is striking and I can understand why you chose it. I would have like to provide a counter-image that shows that there can be beauty, peace and serenity in death as well.
    I think death can be beautiful – that again would depend a lot on your point of view. I would rather die a beautiful death than an ugly one.
    I also think having said my piece I shall now confine myself to reading the rest of the comments and following the debate as my views on this subject may be rather clouded at present.

  6. I am currently of the mind that death — in all its forms — is ugly and never beautiful. It is the end of the warm body and the fire of the mind and the brutal recognition of the cold end of our magnificence.
    No one wants to believe the world spins without them even though we begin to decay from the moment of our birth.
    The beautification of death — and resurrection and the afterlife and ghosts and purgatory and heaven — are all modern inventions to prevent us from the reality of our deaths.
    Few people want to accept, let alone recognize, that once we’re gone, it’s over; nothing can be retained or regained we are back to where we started: In the muck and the mire of a darkling universe from which there is no end and no beginning and only opportunity to, perhaps, recede and restart the cycle of life from zero.

  7. How you view this topic will depend on your religious and spiritual beliefs. And I believe that once you die, you leave your flesh and become spirit once more. The flesh is now just a former vehicle is which we housed our spirit whilst on earth. Hence, I want to be cremated. I see no point in being buried somewhere for future relatives to go to my burial site, when I am no longer there. Furthermore, the romantic in me wants to fly and be free, not constrained in an earth-bound coffin. So, I want my ashes scattered over a mountain cliff to the sea below. But really for me, none of this needs to happen. I would be thrilled if medical science could use each and every one of my cells for some good. And then there would be nothing to bury or cremate at all.
    David, you talk about beauty in death. It is hard for me to describe this, but I see great beauty in death. It is beautiful to see a life culminate, hopefully in peace and then to finally move on (to wherever that may be – or not). Yes, there is pain, but pain can be exquisitely sweet too. The beauty is in the natural cycles of life and death. There has to be life for there to be death. And there has to be death for there to be life. The sheer poetry of it all is beautiful. Even when you said…

    In the muck and the mire of a darkling universe from which there is no end and no beginning and only opportunity to, perhaps, recede and restart the cycle of life from zero.

    …How is that not beautiful? No end, no beginning…and perhaps…That is certainly not ugly to me.

  8. natzgal —
    I realize the reaction to today’s topic hinges upon personal belief systems and values and I’m thrilled to honor them all and celebrate them here.
    I do not believe in order to have death there must be life first — not if we concede to agree that “life” as expressed here before is breath — it is then possible to “die” before reaching first inhale or exhale. When we speak of breath we are talking about natural human breath and the inhalation and exhalation of air.
    It’s all a matter of perception and linking. If we valued death less in the marketplace and in our fantasies that death doesn’t really mean we’re dead and even though we’re alive we’re really dead… we’d live better lives.
    We would realize we have specific moments when we are active and alive and the rest is nothingness that cannot be perceived, acted upon or even acted upon inside.
    Society beautifies death so the living won’t scream out of their minds realizing they will not, in fact, live forever and not rot on the vine or escape as ash in the air. By de-valuing the “beauty” of death, our lives become more pristine and less cheap.
    I understand the religious want to keep the living in line — and they do that by threatening them in the afterlife — but that sort of penalty after you’re dead for the life you led is the definition of ugly. Correct the living; don’t punish the dead!
    A favorite book I love to teach is Jessica Mitford’s “The American Way of Death.” She updated the book before she died to “The American Way of Death Revisited” and she fully examines the “industry” of dying for the right price in America.
    http://www.salon.com/books/sneaks/1998/07/29sneaks.html

  9. I recognise that death in many cases can be and is ugly. I do not believe that all death is ugly.
    Likewise I believe that a lot of peoples lives are ugly and that for them death is *beautiful* as it is a release from the horror that is their life.
    I have loved most of the moments in my life – there are some I would not rather have experienced – those were the ones where I was closest to death – and was very ill and in a great deal of physical and mental pain.
    Sadly for many reasons we are not all blessed with magical vibrant lives – many of us have tedious humdrum lives – or lives of great poverty or great pain – in fact some people seek the release of death because their life is hell on earth.

  10. On her death bed, my mother clung to life. She inspected the subcutaneous bleeding on her fore-arms with fearful attention. She looked at us with innocent eyes and asked, “I’m not dying, am I?” She had always been a great beauty in life and expressed regret at how ugly she appeared in this process of death. She did not want to be buried. The horror of insects munching on her carcass, of mould growing on her person, of the process of rot, she refused to countenance. She asked for cremation. She was cremated. Still she has returned to an elemental state and is fertilizing shrubbery in the back yard.
    It is the aesthetization of death of masking the appearance of it that I object to. It is possible to withstand custom and refuse makeup, new clothes in the casket, elaborate funerary furniture. Just speak clearly of what you wish for yourself by way of simple interrment.
    I think the tower of silence has a just feel to it – we become anonymous in the end – that’s reality. G

  11. I find this topic a little morbid – most probably because none of my parents is doing well at this point.
    To me death is a stark reality; the untimely one is a shock. There is nothing that can substitute the vacuum created death.
    I prefer to donate my body – the remains can be cremated or buried – according to the convenience – mine as well as others.

  12. I would be cremated, and spread into the sea – the natural place from which all life sprang.
    For those who talk about Ressurection of the Dead – that’s a euphanism. If God doesn’t come for another 1000 or more years, you’ll be naught but dust anyway. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

  13. Gordon!
    Thank you for sharing your faith. It is fascinating to me that the soul and body are the same entity and must be united.
    When you are resurrected — and it is “when” and not “if,” right? — are you in a perfected state or are you brought back as you were?

  14. totaltransformation —
    Thanks for the comment! If you read the Mitford book I previously mentioned, you’ll see cremation is no longer the “cheaper” option because so many people are choosing it now as their preferred method of body disposal. Funeral homes were losing money on the event. Now they’ve added rules and surcharges to the cremation process that makes it no cheaper than putting you in the ground.

  15. suburbanlife —
    What a fantastic comment! How did you answer your mother’s question?
    I think you’ve hit upon an interesting idea that deaths and funerals and the procession of celebration of an empty body is for the living and not for the dead.
    It is a tough idea for many to realize there is a final end to the cycle of life with no provable way out — except to hope and wish for something better in the afterlife.

  16. Katha —
    I am sorry you find this topic morbid — and I thank you for staying on topic and directly addressing the matter at hand.
    Here are a few wonderings you have inspired within me… so stick with me as I meander around some ideas that have been expressed here throughout the day…
    I do not consider death or paintings indicating death any more morbid than watching the cruelty the living perpetuate on each other every single day.
    One could argue, as others have here, that the only way to find an escape from the morbidity of living is through the finality of death. Instead of learning to live in the light they hide in the darkness of death.
    Death is all around us. We cannot escape it. We must not cringe from images of a semiotic blog that speak truths we may not appreciate or desire — but we all make choices in life and we must be responsible for those choices and not blame others for our lack of a cogent argument against the undesirable and the inevitable.
    To seek freedom in the ugliness of death, seems to me to be an anathema and the ultimate condemnation of living a cogent life that lacks imagination and creativity.
    Some of the most miserable and suffering people I have met in my life have been more alive than those trapped in the dying tendrils of fame and money and beauty.
    The saddest thing is the recognition of those who appear to be alive but are, in fact, dead. We know they are corpses but they do not. We previously addressed that matter here:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2007/07/10/graves-for-the-living-lives-for-the-dead/

  17. Great argument, mcclaud! I appreciate your insight.
    When my Public Health students and I previously discussed death and funerals and the monetization of mourning in America, I told them, “I am not my body. If I die on the street, leave me in the gutter because that thing left behind is not me.”
    They were horrified. They told me they’d pick me up out of the gutter and bury me.

  18. I’d like to be freeze dried, which I first learned of when reading Stiff.
    Cremation contributes a fairly sigificant percentage of the mercury poisoning in the atmosphere. Burial seems pointless as I have no religious affiliation, do not believe in any afterlife and will not have any use for a physical body once I’m dead, so why continue to take up room on the planet?
    Cheers
    Mike

  19. In response to your response –
    I wouldn’t leave you dead in the gutter, either, because that’s how disease starts. You can’t just let corpses stack up everywhere, decaying and making a nice little culture for diseases, which are then spread by creatures who nibble on your body.
    I’d probably submit you to your next of kin and let them deal with your body. Hopefully, they will respect your wishes.

  20. Hi David,
    First of all, thanks for the fascinating insight!
    My opinion is judgmental and biased at this point, I haven’t found the images morbid – I found them telling instead. I was a little uncomfortable with the topic itself.
    We can’t escape death; beautification of it doesn’t glorify it either – it’s a reality. There is nothing to cringe from – everyone has to face it – someday or the other!
    Doesn’t matter whether we want it or not.