Friday, August 03, 2007

Post Mortem

Recently an acquaintance of mine died—really a friend of a friend—and in the grieving process that followed among those who knew her, there was a sudden urgency to fulfill any desires the dead woman had during her life. Did she want to be cremated? Would she have wanted certain friends to attend the funeral? Indeed, would she have wanted a funeral at all? Inevitably, echoes of this game of retroactive wish-fullfillment cascaded back to me. What would I want to happen after I died? It was a curious question. Why should I care now what happens after I die? It won’t make a lick of difference to me one way or the other, for the elementary reason that I will cease to exist. Obviously, when I expire, it is to be hoped that those I loved in life will not have to grieve or suffer too greatly, and that those I resent or hate will spiral into a hopeless cycle of longing, shame and regret. Other than that, who really gives a baboon's bullwinkle?
But let's return to this idea of fulfilling the wishes of a dead person. Two things strike me. The first is that you don't technically have to do anything, because the dead person will never know. Bury him in a Glad bag! Throw a big party and invite all his enemies! There will be no repercussions, unless you're one of those unfortunate people who believe that ghosts can move things, such as a lit candle closer to the curtains.
The second observation is that this process has no real connection to the dead person anyway, but for the grieving survivors, who will somehow feel better knowing that “he would have wanted it that way.” The rush to revise things in life for a corpse must be one life’s most peculiar follies. If you love someone, the time to grant wishes and fulfill dreams for a loved one is in the present, when he exists in more than just your memories. So don't bury my favorite books with me in my grave—go order me stuff from my Amazon Wish List right now.

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