Prophet of Zoom: Right-Sizing Your Death

The other day I read a newspaper article that reminded me once again that I still haven’t made burial arrangements for my corporeal remains. The article described a newly popular hobby in New Zealand, the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Coffin. DIY practitioners, usually aged mid-70s to mid-90s, build and sometimes decorate their own coffins, many of which start off as benches. “We like to say it’s only a box until you put someone in it,” says Joanne La Grouw, the treasurer of the Kiwi Coffin Club Rotorua, whose motto is “Fine & Affordable Underground Furniture.”

The new fad highlights something I’ve already written about in Zoomer: how we dispose of our bodies once we don’t need them. The Big Two choices are still “rot” (burial) or “burn” (cremation). In the last 50 years, cremation has risen from six per cent to 70 per cent of all Canadian deaths, while burial has dropped from 90 per cent to 30 per cent. Less common options include promession (freeze-drying the corpse, shattering it and using the resulting powder as compost); cryopreservation (preserving corpses in whole or in part, such as head only) in super-cold storage until science figures out a way to kick-start them back to life); vertical burial (self-explanatory, saves space); burial (of tiny cremain containers) in outer space; burial at sea (legal but officially frowned upon); and whole body donation to science.

None of these methods, though, address a particular mission of mine: the Memorial. At exactly that moment when we should be most present in all our unique individuality, contemporary burial practices turn us into faceless ciphers. We end up with much the same headstone, with virtually the same inscription, two dates, a name, the odd quote; it could be anyone’s tomb. Sadly, contemporary eulogies follow suit. I believe inscriptions and eulogies should be more like great newspaper obituaries (also a dying art), which are always more about the life than the death. Cemeteries should be “artists’ cemeteries,” with us as the artists, raising the flag of who we were. People visiting our memorials should be able to learn about the lives we lived and what made us interesting, useful and unique. Our selves should not be buried with our remains. Our selves should remain!