My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Monday, 29 January 2018

Planning My After-life (But I'm Not Dying!)

This blog entry has been inspired by the works of ::Caitlin Doughty:: and the Order of the Good Death.

For a long time, probably since I went to my grandmother's funeral as a child, I've thought about how I'd like my own funeral to be. It is probably a total 'Goth cliche', but when other girls planned their ideal wedding, I was thinking less about white carriages bedecked with red roses... and more black horse-drawn hearses bedecked with white lilies. 

I'm not suicidal or dying or anything, and hopefully what I'm writing about won't be useful for a few decades still (my grandmother lived into her '90s, as did several of my more elderly relatives), but I think about these things anyway. 

Some people might find that depressing, but to me it offers the comfort of some level of control over the finality of things - how I'll leave my 'last impressions' on the world, what my legacy will be.  I guess it helps me also accept my own mortality and the finality of death (even if I joke about being an 'undead vampire' a lot!) and perhaps if I share my thoughts on what I would like to happen to me, then it might help clear the stigma about planning for what happens after your own death. Hopefully openly talking about, and blogging about, what I want to happen to me after my death, is a little step towards encouraging death positivity - a healthy acceptance of death and dying as part of the natural way things happen. 

It must be awful for the bereaved to have to try and plan a funeral as well as be in the early stages of grief, so I also want to have that planned out to save those who remain after me the hassle and bother of having to come up with an apt way to do those things, especially as it's probably quite clear to those who know me that I both admire some funeral traditions, and dislike others, and that it might not be clear to them which I'd want, and which I wouldn't without actually leaving some sort of document behind. Funerals can also be very expensive. Funeral plans exist, and there are ways to pre-pay for your funeral in advance, and this is something I really think people should look into. Monuments can also be quite expensive, and as I want something fancy (more about that later), I want to have mine made while I'm still alive, but I suppose it is possible to make other financial arrangements for a monument.

One issue for me is that I am most likely going to be the last of my immediate family. I couldn't have children even if I wanted to (and I don't) and with the rest of my family, I am either rather deliberately estranged, or much older, with the exception of my adopted sister. As such, other than my partner, I don't have much in the way of immediate family to plan things when I die, and that might make for some legal issues, whereby those who know me best might not be my legal next of kin, especially if I outlive my partner and sister. If I have things planned out (and potentially paid for) before my demise, it might make ensuring my wishes are carried out a bit easier. 

What happens to someone after death actually has a LOT of stages and elements, and I've pondered about a good deal of them. 

One thing I've been considering is what of me I'd donate to science. If there's any parts of me that are useful to medicine or science, I won't be using them any more, so I'd quite like to donate them - however, if I get mangled in a car wreck, I might not be much use for spare parts, but I might make an interesting scientific case-study for understanding exactly what happens if you get hit by the intercity coach or something, but that could also be something already well understood and researched, but if I gave my corpse up for research, I might not get buried at all! I also have spiritual thoughts about whether some of energy would linger on in whoever I get donated to, and that it's one way to live on a little after death, but then what if I would accidentally haunt the recipient? I have heard stories about people who, after transplants, started having eerie connections to their donor, and that honestly bothers me (although quite a few people reading this are probably rolling their eyes and thinking I'm being needlessly superstitious!). It's something I've pondered, and it's made me wonder exactly what bits of me I'd be OK with being reused, too. Perhaps the brain is the seat of our self, and to some it is the heart, so would it be better that those things decompose with the rest of me, to acknowledge the finality of me as myself being gone (I believe in reincarnation, but, to me, reincarnation isn't a direct transfer of consciousness), or would it be better to have my brain preserved in a lab somewhere so that something of what made who I am remains (and could be useful in studying eccentrics with neurological disorders!). It's not something I've fully made up my mind on - organ donation, and donation to science are both things I feel are a good idea, but the nuances of it aren't something I've finalised. 

I believe in reincarnation, a I mentioned above, and that our bodies are just temporary vessels for energy that goes through endless cycles of life, death and rebirth, so I don't feel like I need to have specific after death treatment to ensure a specific afterlife, and my beliefs in regards to such things as ghosts is that ghosts are real, and if you become a ghost or not depends on factors like having unfinished business or a particularly traumatic death, so that wouldn't figure into funerary rites for me. I know some other Pagan paths do have these traditions, and include things like burial goods, but I don't believe in a permanent afterlife place where I need to pack stuff to take with me. This leaves my funerary options a lot more open. 

To me, reincarnation is more like 'spiritual recycling', and in line with that, I also think that the natural literal recycling of a corpse into decomposed mush that feeds further organic life is important. This is the one aspect of what happens to me that I feel strongly about. I don't want to be embalmed; embalming fluid is bad for the environment, and I want to decompose properly. Tidied up so I don't look too awful at my funeral is one thing, but preserved is another. I have no need to lie 'in state' like I'm royalty or Lenin, and I don't feel like decomposition ought to be kept at bay, because it's part of the cycle of life - life feeds on the death of other things, that is how nature works, and if bacteria and the creepy-crawlies in the ground eat me, then that's as nature intended, and hopefully I'll fertilise the ground. 

Wanting a natural burial has many aspects - I don't want a plasticised casket full of synthetic fabrics and foam upholstery, I don't want to be embalmed, and I don't want my coffin to be made out of stuff that's heavily plastics-based or would otherwise not rot well - ordinary wood would suffice (wicker or woven coffins are another option, but they don't look traditional enough for me). That's something I'm very certain of. If my coffin needs to be fancy, they can put a pall over it and some nice flowers. I also wonder about how deep a natural burial should be - will it be 6 feet under, or is it more shallow so that the worms and bugs can munch? Do 'natural' cemeteries allow for monuments as well as trees/plants planted as memorials? Etc. etc. 

Another thing for me to consider is where I would like to be buried. Most of my favourite cemeteries have ceased to take new burials (and usually ceased to do so somewhere around 100 years ago), but most modern cemeteries don't have the same ambience as older ones, because tastes in memorials and headstones have changed (glossy stones, gilded letters, and one of three basic forms with some decorative etching seems to be the norm in many parts of the UK now) and many modern cemeteries I have visited are very linear, organised on a neat grid, and without the interspersing of shrubberies, landscaping and paths that some of the older cemeteries, that were organised, but still had a park-like feel (like Tomnahurich Cemetery in Inverness) do. Some of them seem genuinely depressing rather than simply sombre and reverent - rows and rows of very similar headstones with just grass, plastic flowers, and a grid of gravelled paths, which seems very impersonal, even with the personalised messages on the headstones. As much as I love old churches, I wouldn't want to be buried in a church graveyard.

One thing I am pretty certain about is the design of my headstone. I want it to be circular, I want it to be a stone that will weather nicely over time, and I want it to include an Ouroboros symbol - a serpent eating its own tail - as a symbol of the infinite cycle of destruction and recreation. I would also like a pentacle, as a symbol of my faith. I also want it to be Gothic Revival in style. That's pretty specific, so it's something I would like to commission while I'm still alive, partly as it would be quite expensive for those that remain after me and partly so I can make sure it's exactly as I'd like it. I will leave the face blank, so those who survive me can have whatever words they like inscribed on it, but I want the framing ornament to be quite specific. Maybe it will sit atop a pile of stones in a small cairn, maybe it will stand alone, such things as that, I haven't figured out.

When it comes to the funeral, in many ways, funerals are for the bereaved, not for the deceased. I don't want talk of heaven or God in the conventional meanings of those words at my funeral - for a start, my friends are too diverse in their beliefs for that, and it's also not what I believe in. I would like to write a letter of 'last goodbyes' to be read out at my funeral, and I suspect as my partner and I are Pagan, and much of our friendship circle is, that while we have diverse cosmologies and theologies, Paganism is more orthopraxic than orthodoxic - we are more united by practices than beliefs - so there will be certain elements of Paganism there. I don't want to dictate what those survive me do to best deal with my passing. How I want to be buried is important to me, but whatever rite of memorial others chose is for them, not for me.

I know, in my fantasies, that I'd like to be pulled to my resting place in an ornate carriage pulled by black horses, and that everyone would wear black in traditional mourning, and there would be candles and flowers and and that I'd be carried to my grave by my best friends (which wouldn't work out so well in real life when some are just about 5 feet tall, and some are over 6 feet tall!) and that I'd have a very dramatic, very Victorian funeral, just without the Christian liturgy, but that's what I'd like for myself, and I wouldn't be alive to appreciate it, so there'd be no point. Now, riding in a hearse while I'm alive is a different matter! I want my funeral to be for the benefit of those who survive me, not for me.

6 comments:

  1. You and I have similar ideas about what we'd want at our deaths. Like you, I prefer a green burial; that is, no embalming fluid, no metal or plastic coffin, etc. I'm quite environmentally inclined and prefer that my body not poison the Earth and Nature, once I'm placed in the ground.

    A couple of years ago, I purchased a CD that features the music of a Russian Gothic-Metal group called Amederia. There's a song on the album entitled, "The Dance of Two Swans." I don't know why, but as soon as I heard that song I realized that I wanted it played at my funeral. The song has little to no bearing on my life, but still, it resonated with me.

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    1. I feel that modern western society already produces far too much waste and pollution, and I don't want my final act to be to contribute further to the destruction of the planet by being a nugget of toxic goo. I'd rather be given back to the Earth from whence I came. At least stone is a natural material, so I am happy to have a stone marker. I get great happiness from enjoying the sculpture in graveyards, so I want my marker to contribute to someone else's enjoyment of wherever I'm buried, something artistic.

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  2. There is an interesting practice, an alkaline hydrolysis of the body, where all that is left is some liquid consisting of simple chemical compounds and bones. It sounds like the ideal way to get rid of my body for me, but unfortunately, it's an extremely rare practice, and possibly very costly, and since there will be nobody to carry out my wishes, I'll just probably settle for drowning in the Sea.

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    1. Other than my partner (who is older than me) and my adopted sister, I have no family that, should I live to the expected lifespan for a woman of my kin, will outlive me. I might outlive my partner (I honestly worry about how reckless some drivers are when he's out on his motorbike!), and I might outlive my sister, so those are no guarantees. It actually worries me that I might be the last of my family, and that it is not friends' place to sort out a funeral, hence why I am so keen on organising it while I'm still alive.

      If you wish to be dissolved, then perhaps it is something you could look into the practicalities and cost of, then while you're alive save up for it. I don't know exactly how these things work, so it might be an idea to talk to someone familiar with the laws in your place as to whether it is possible for you to appoint an executor of your final wishes that isn't a family member, to arrange that. Burial at sea is traditional for sailors who die at sea, so perhaps that is an option too? There might be laws about how far out to sea you must be to deposit a body, however.

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  3. Sorry about the deletions..... This is redone properly due to a couple of bad Typos that changed the meaning and made it read really weird, and the correction I posted was not really very good.

    REALLY good post. Well that's another 5 ^o^ post :-).

    I have done a fair bit of thinking about the last journey too. Definitely for the Horse drawn hearse. And definitely for burial and natural decomposition. I believe burials are done at 6 feet as the worms tend to not live that far down.... I think I believe in re-incarnation of energy, but not sure, 'suppose I'll find out one day on that one. I love interesting and old cemeteries but these days and, we are hopefully talking a long time in the future, they are full and harder to get space in. Modern ones are very 'soulless' so to speak. As to headstone, less sure. I certainly don't want a standard Argos catalogue headstone, it would probably end up being Art Nouveau or Art Deco Gothic and would have bats. Bats are non negotiable !!! A few years ago my son asked me about cemeteries and I told him, so as not to be upset by death, that "It's where all the dead people live!" And I certainly want to go and live with other dead people when my time comes. I DON'T intend going up the chimney !

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  4. I have had similar thoughts about my own funeral however I do suffer from anxiety and depression. It is very hard for friends and family to understand.

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