Friday, November 09, 2007

Passing through the gates...

..when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.
- Sugyal Rinpoche

Last night, I was watching a show on PBS that impressed me a great deal. It was about medical research, how scientists explore the various parts of our bodies, how they age and how they eventually die.

In this particular segment, they discussed Alzheimer's Disease and how they figure that it may be only five years until they can reconcile that disease, make it only a chronic condition rather than fatal and can slow down the progress. While they might not be able to reverse it, they might be able to keep it from progressing any further from the point of diagnosis.

I was spellbound. They explained that a large reason for this progress in medical research is because of those who donate their bodies after death to science. They can often examine the corpses before all the cells have died. There is still quite a bit of activity going on in our bodies, even after we have technically died.

When a body has been donated, they can be kept on life support until the research institution can collect the body.

When one gets to my age, we start thinking about these things a bit more seriously. The women in my family are rather long-living but I do have health conditions that could take me out early. My spiritual beliefs are strong enough that I have a fair sense of what will occur after I leave the mortal coil. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong and won't be able to do much about that. What I do know is that I believe strongly our souls go somewhere else and do something else.

So what do we do with what we leave behind? What do we do with our bodies?

The whole concept of funerals seems perverse to me. Completely perverse and ego-based. I could never consent to such a thing. It imposes unnecessary expense on those I leave behind and is an individual focus that I would find very uncomfortable.

I joke with people who know me well that I will come back and haunt them if they do such a thing. That rattling around that they can't quite place? It'll be me.

And I can be really annoying! :)

One of the things I know is that I want to end my life with meaning, just as I want to live it with meaning. Leaving my body to science is so consistent with who I am and what I stand for that I am currently investigating how to make sure that desire is documented.

I'm not interested in "selling" this idea. I'm not about that and won't do it. All I'd ask is to give it a passing thought, to consider all the people who might be helped by the medical research that is provided by just one body.

We're all in this together. I can't think of anything with quite as much meaning as this would be, making use of the shell we leave behind as our souls soar to the next plane of existence.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

This could be the answer for me as I don't want to be buried or burned, even though I believe that my body will not be me once my soul has departed.

I do like the idea of a meaningful death, a gift to others. When considered in this way, it seems that to do otherwise would almost make a mockery of trying to LIVE with meaning.

As always, Chani, you give so much to think about.

Still, I like the idea of my loved ones listening to Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Lulu's Back in Town" played by Ellis and Branford Marsalis at my funeral. But maybe that could take place later, without my physical body.

Christine said...

my grandmother , who is dying a sad, slow, torturous death from alzheimer's has arranged to have her body donate to science. i have always admired her selfless decision. i could never understand why this bothered my grandpa who wanted her buried (at great expense) next to him.

and i also tell my friends and family that if they bury me and spend obscene amounts of money on a funeral i'll haunt them, too!

great minds think alike. . . ;-P

Anvilcloud said...

I don't know if I'm up to donating my body but neither am I up to an expensive send off. I think that some sort of little ceremony is good for the survivors -- even if it's just the scattering of ashes.

Liz Dwyer said...

I am an organ donater but I haven't ever thought about donating my entire body to science. I'm a Baha'i and even though my belief system is very ritual-free, there are specific things I need to do, if possible as far as burial. I wonder how leaving my entire body to science would be impacted by that. Hmm...I'll have to read up on that.

Amy Y said...

It sounds like a great idea to me... At the ripe old age of 30, I haven't put a lot of thought into more than donating my organs to those that might need them... Thanks for giving us something more to chew on!

flutter said...

God I am a mess today. This whole post had me a slobbering mess. It's beautiful, and really just....gah I think I need to sleep

Anonymous said...

There is one problem: many universities sell the bodies to the military, which then blows them up to test their weapons and body armor.

I looked around a few years ago for a place that would put in writing that they wouldn't sell my body to the military- but, curiously, none of them would.

So, for now, the plan is for my body to be burned to ashes. I'm not willing to risk my body being used in an evil way.

Mariposa said...

What a thought provoking post...makes me think, and think a lot! I'm into donating an organ to people who might be in need of them but, donating my whole body to science is still a new concept to me...haven't thought of that until today! At my age, I'm so paranoid that I have a number or insurance policies, something enough for me to have a decent burial (so people i leave behind will not be hassled..) but then, for the greater good, what is really a decent makes me really think...i need coffee! :D

Kelly said...

I've long been an organ donor and was contemplating how to give the rest of my body to science. I was really shocked when my boyfriend said he wanted something to cremate or bury, just didn't like the idea of my body in some classroom somewhere. Interesting the attachments we have to the shell!

Anonymous said...

Youth tells us to grab, to seize, to become, to hold on to, to achieve. Age, maturity tells us to let go, to accept, to love, to receive. I like getting older.

What better "accomplishment" than to give after you are gone, to give in your leaving?

Thank you for making me think, reminding me to feel.

Julie Pippert said...

It's an interesting question and one we had to decide when we made our wills.

It's a decision that can change with time.

I think it is magnificent for people to donate their bodies to science that way.

For now, I made my decision, but like I said, I remain open about it as things change. When my children get older, what they need when I pass might be very specific and I'd want to try to honor that, too.

Using My Words

Girlplustwo said...

such a thought provoking post. i have been wrestling with how to honor the dead a great deal this week - for reasons i'll talk about next week - and beyond honoring, how can we still consider being of use?

i like this. fascinating stuff.

blooming desertpea said...

I'm already listed as a organ donor and wouldn't mind if they used the body as it won't affect what happens to my soul - I'm in with you on this.

meno said...

Even though i have read "Stiff" by Mary Roach, i will still be donating my body after i die. I'll be done with it.


Suzie Ridler said...

Absolutely fascinating post! It's true, death should have meaning. I really believe that. I wish I hadn't been so under a micropscope all my adult life, perhaps then I would be able to consideriously consider this process. Thank you for sharing this and see how we can find gems on TV that can change our lives for the better? :)

Anonymous said...

When they are finished with a body, I assume they cremate the remains? I am 100% behind using cadavers for research, but I have an unnatural fear of corpses, of my body as a corpse... I really need to know that it will be cremated.

QT said...

I have a lot of issues with this concept, and organ donation, mostly because I was informed at some point that you are not really dead when your organs are harvested and that creeped me out. I am sure I will get over that someday, but for now I am one of those selfish people that won't donate...

However, I am with you on the funerals. While I would like there to be some ceremony, I think it should be small, and I think it should be a celebration of a life well lived.

Rima said...

There is a bumper sticker I've seen around here quite a bit: "Don't Take Your Organs with you to Heaven, Heaven Knows We Need Them Here."

And it's true, whether the issue is organ donation or donating one's entire body to medical research. There's no reason to take it with you! (Although it is my understanding that some religions believe the physical body must be intact in order to "cross over.")

Janet said...

I think it's a worthy thing to do. I am cautious about committing to it at this point in my life, because if I were to die I have children who would be left behind. And I think they would need the closure of some sort of ceremony where they get to say goodbye to some sort of physical manifestation of who I was. I'm thinking cremation right now. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind in the future. ;-)

molly said...

If it would help to speed up the finding of cures for alzheimer's, cancer, parkinson's, I'd sign up tomorrow. But, like one of your other commenters, I'd want to be sure it would be used for "good" research and not to improve the destructive power of weapons.....

Ian Lidster said...

Well stated. I agree with you completely. And, after all, our lives are all intertwined and we are all just part of a continuing cycle.
I'll happily donate my organs, especially since I won't be using them any longer.
So, I disagree with Bart Simpson who once said: "I don't want my guts going to some strange dude."

Liv said...

I don't plan on needing my body, and I feel sure I'd like to haunt a few people at least for a little while...

Snoskred said...

The Other Half's mother wanted her body donated to science but when it came down to it they would not accept her - she was jaundiced. Well hello she had liver and kidney cancer. She would have been absolutely furious with them. In fact she's probably haunting them as I type this. She would have seen their refusal as yet another way for the medical people to "mess" with her when all she ever wanted was to try anything and everything she could to get rid of that cancer. She took part in several trials of various things.

Me personally I want to become a LifeGem. ;) I like the idea of being sparkly when I die.

Funerals are for those left behind. It is an opportunity for them to celebrate the life of the person they loved. They do not have to be expensive and ostentatious. They do not have to be about ego. They are often an opportunity for family to learn about what their loved ones did that they may never have known about.

For example, I first heard about my Grandfather deciding to create his own brick to build his house with at his funeral. I'd missed out on knowing a lot about his life because he had a stroke 12 years before he died and he couldn't tell us, and the rest of the family found it difficult to talk about those happy times during the unhappy stroke time.

At my Nanna's funeral, my uncle had collected together hundreds of photographs of her and all of us, and he put it to a song by her favourite musician (now one of my favourites) "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison. It was absolutely stunning and everyone at the funeral was given a copy of it on dvd to watch later. He even managed to sneak in an awful picture of me in there. There was one photo of every member of the family, in between many photos of my Nanna ;) She had Alzheimers and had spent several years in a dementia ward where they took incredible care of her.. many of the staff were at the funeral. A funeral is also their chance to say goodbye to patients they have cared for - and for us it was a chance to thank them for their excellent dedicated hard work.

Most importantly, a funeral is a time when it is ok to be upset in public, to come together as people in mourning and cry together.


S said...

yep. already on board with this.

painted maypole said...

i have always been an organ donor, and just recently became comfortable with the idea of donating my body to science (before I was weirded out about being prodded by medical students or whatever). and I have always wanted to be cremated... I don't want anyone having to tend my grave or visit me in a cemetary. How depressing. remember as i LIVED, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Whole body. Poof! Take it.

I've been a donor since the option was brought to my attention as a teen. At this moment, coincidentally or not (lol), I am in the process of working out some details with the State Anatomy Board regarding having the whole "travel shell" go to research or having it divided up for needed tissue donation--which I now know is a WHOLE other ball of wax.

Sheesh, who knew givin' it away would be so, uh, involved. (smile)

Love the uppermost quote. Broke my heart open. More.


Anonymous said...

It is kind of interesting how some states set up your choices:

name the organ(s) you want to give...
name the whole it where you want it to go...what to do with any remains after science has its way with you (heh, gallows humor, necessary).

I don't know. It's always struck me as odd how someone could say,
Well, I'd like my eyes to be used for another person but not my heart or my right kidney. Oh, yes, you can have the intestines, but only on a Tuesday and only if..."

You're not using it anymore so what's the deal? If it can help another soul while they're still here and struggling, don't be such a Scrooge.

/stepping off soapbox

Pink said...

Here in the UK (my adopted home) there is a discussion in government now about making it the law that if you DON'T want your body used for scient you have to sign up. ie. the government has a right to your body after death. To me, that doesn't seem quite right. Where then is the concept of the individual liberty and duty?

But then, this is a country where when a woman is raped, she has to give a dna sample. If the police decide not to prosecute, her perpetrator is never sampled. But HER sample goes on an international database to be used in future criminal investigations.

I think its a very interesting area of legality. Who owns our bodies?

Carla said...

I read a fascinating book this last year called, "Stiff." It was about the history of using cadavers in science. The history and stories that this author uncovered were so interesting. I'm sure it's not a book for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. Thanks for the interesting thoughts.

crazymumma said...

I am with you on this Chani. There is something called a living will....maybe you can look into that.

Anonymous said...

I am an organ donor for just this reason. I think once my kids get older I'd be more comfortable donating my whole body. I know how important as a kid it was for me to have a grave to visit of my mothers, although now I never go (when am I on Long Island?) So, when the kids are a bit older, I think this would be an excellent idea.

And I think I'll put "Stiff" on my reading list.