Friday, March 09, 2007

Embalming, Next-of-kin laws, Anna Nicole and YOU

The techno-world is a very weird thing. Since I briefly grumbled about Anna Nicole, the connections of her ridiculous post-mortem legal drama to my life have spawned like the tasteless t-shirts memorializing her.

Here are a few good ones...

The other night I had dinner with some of my funeral service pals. The subject came up, and it came up in a way I was completely enthused about. (Prepare for the funeral geek flag to unfurl here...)

The court prattle made a lot of people think about their own wishes and arrangements and wonder how next-of-kin laws might affect them. I'm ALL FOR that result. It also brought up the question of designee laws as opposed to next-of-kin laws. Again, I say "Yahoo!" (It was a quiet yahoo, but still, these are positive developments.)

If you have not put your wishes in writing and if your family tree is at all complicated... wake up. See that little hourglass to the right of my blog? See the word "NOW"? What happens if you die from the boredom of my blog? Who's legally in charge of your remains? Does that person have a single clue what you might want?

It has been clinically proven by countless independent studies that making your funeral plans will not kill you. So, NOW. Talk about it, write about it, let the people who love you know. It's not selfish. It is thoughtful for those you leave behind. And if you are alienated from family, absolutely spend the little bit of money it will take to have a legal designee who will see to your wishes. That will certainly help you out if you keel over in our fine Commonwealth.

Then there's the question of decomposition. People got to fretting about embalming.

"What do you mean she's decomposing? I thought she was embalmed."

Ah, good one. As a proponent of green burials and cremation, any opportunity to expose the misconceptions of embalming makes me happy. But even I firmly believe that there are certain very good reasons for embalming. In my book only a select few bodies that are embalmed need to be. Believe it or not, Ms. Smith is in that select few. However, just because she's chock full of chemicals, gauze, and nifty little cosmetic tricks does not mean she is not dead.

You know that thing your workout magazines keep saying about drinking water? Yeah, well, that's because we are full of it. We are basically ambulatory waterbeds. Ever had a waterbed spring a leak on you? That's a dead human body. Whenever I drive past cemeteries one word always comes to mind. Squishy.

So she may be beautifully embalmed, but that gives you time to get her in the ground. Not unlimited time to gaze upon her in the Florida morgue. WAKE UP. Dead people don't look like living people. One of the hard truths I always had to tell mourning families when I was in hospice was that the undertaker had NOT screwed up. Dead people are horribly, eerily still. And the slow movement they do have is not anything you want to be watching.

When we stop moving, we do not look the same. I've seen some cruddy body prep and some amazing body prep, but they still all looked dead. And if there was some delay in getting them in the ground, they looked more dead. Really dead. Decomposition was the wrong word for the judge and media to use as to why they needed to get her buried. But it sparked a lively discussion about what embalming really is and really does, so long live the misnomer.

Hey. Are you still sitting there? And you are still alive? Great. Get to making your plans. NOW. Do it for Anna Nicole.


Grace said...

Hear, hear! Another thing people usually don't think about is that even if their driver's license has "organ donor" written on it, organ and tissue recovery organizations go through extensive interviewing with the next-of-kin regarding possible donation. If your family decides not to donate, your driver's license means nothing. So talk about donation, too - you can save up to 7 lives and help up to 50! (

Every 7th Day said...

Thanks Grace. I know a lot of organ recipients who are grateful to the donors and their families for saving their lives.