I was disquieted by an article in the newspaper the other day. A World War Two veteran had been lost in a jungle somewhere in the Pacific and long presumed dead. During the process of clearing land for a new beach resort, human remains were found. Seemingly, our Government has the practice of obtaining DNA samples from bodies found in likely places, and seeing if they match to soldiers missing in action. The rationale is that families want to have closure, and to bury their loved ones in friendly ground.
The fact that World War Two ended 73 years ago, and that claimants for the remains of our soldiers are at best 72 year old children of the deceased whose memories must consist only of sepia head-shots, appears to be irrelevant. I cannot deny the need of these children, to link up to a lost parent, although I find it curious. As for aunts, uncles, and indeed grandchildren who by definition were a couple of decades down the road from War’s end, I have even greater incomprehension. As to the cost and therefore the logic of our government’s effort, my view that it is a waste of money, on a cost-benefit analysis, may be cold hearted; I after all know where all my immediate forebears are buried and, for prior generations, no one is looking at the DNA in the bones left by countless pogroms and concentration camps. All in all, this practice carries the pledge of leaving no comrade behind a bit too far for my taste. I cannot imagine the value of placing several bones and teeth, one bone with a drilled hole where the DNA was extracted, in the ground in Keokuk, Iowa with full military honors; although, I am not immune to the sad costs of wars, even righteous wars, and recall my uncles who served in WW2 vividly, right down to Arnold who left important body parts on the Anzio beach.
My personal plan for my remains is to be cremated and, in a highly superfluous flourish which somehow pleases me by its presumed defiance to what we call death, I have specified that my dust be dropped into Cape Cod Bay (at high tide of course) from the deck of my favorite Italian restaurant, while invited guests dine on a menu of my personal favorite Italian dishes. Chianti Classico of course, only bottle with the small Rooster label pasted near the neck of the bottle to denote pure provenance. If grandchildren unknown to a person dead 75 years badly yearn to have their government search human remains across the wild Pacific to find grandpa (noble soul was he, I do not doubt) and bring a few shards of femur home to America, am I erring in denying my own children, and my grandchildren down the line, and my unborn great grandchildren, the comfort and closure and closeness of knowing where I have ended up. Other than taking a swim in the Atlantic, that is?
I asked my Rabbi for her thoughts and, after a moment’s cool stare and a palpable swallow, she suggested that these burial attachments were matters of human emotional reaction without religious symbolism, at least in our religion, and so she had little to offer unless I wanted to be guided by the preference of my adult children. I suppose I could inquire…. Would it be wiser to leave my ashes in an urn on my widow’s mantle so there could be closure by all, that I rested there above the fireplace that always smoked badly when lighted? Are my ashes to be best divided among branches of the family, in increasingly smaller min-urns until my great great great grandchildren are afforded a thimble full of powder? And then to have very distant people wash them out and sell them on a table at an outdoor market, perhaps to people whose hobby is to collect these various ornate vessels?
Or am I best served to be remembered fondly by future generations by reason of being planted in the wet New England sod, hopefully in a concrete outer chest so the ground does not sag down over time when my body and coffin cease to be able to support the weight above? I suspect you are more quickly forgotten, over time, by being in the ground than by being in an urn somewhere, a dusty reminder of complex ambitions at best partially realized. Is being in the ground the same as having one’s ashes dropped into the shallow curl of Provincetown waves, diluted to infinity by the falling tide, tidbits clung to painter lines attaching small boats to their anchors, even a scrap or two on the tongue of an unsuspecting swimmer out for a late-night dip down the beach where the sleepy West End of Ptown is indeed asleep?
I have concluded that these speculations are a conceit. To care about what is left of you when your mind has left was is left of you is to believe that in fact there is something of permanence once you are dead. So many people believe and have believed this just because to think otherwise is so absurdly alien to everything our minds perceive—life. If there is something after life, then there is. To believe that that something relates at all to where the body went, and in what form, is disquieting but absurd. The only impact of all this discussion I am having with myself is the impact it has on the people I leave behind, a harsh realization when you face the most supremely selfish moment of one’s existence, an experience you alone consume and that consumes you alone in the most literal sense.
So I have sent out a reply post-card to relatives of mine down to second cousins once removed. They must certify they are at last eighteen years of age and, having checked that box, they can select a box for the preferred type of body disposal. Since I have attempted to appreciate that I do not possess all the possible answers to any question, I have also left several lines for write-in alternative suggestions. I will share with all of you the group preference, although I may decide to share it only by a piece of performance art.
For more information about Duane Morris, please visit http://www.DuaneMorris.com
Confidentiality Notice: This electronic mail transmission is privileged and confidential and is intended only for the review of the party to whom it is addressed. If you have received this transmission in error, please immediately return it to the sender. Unintended transmission shall not constitute waiver of the attorney-client or any other privilege.