I grew up in a sweet little farming and orcharding community where were death was accepted as a regular part of life and no one seemed to get too worked up about it. Attending the local Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), death was never presented as something to fear, so I developed what I believe to be a healthy outlook on life and death. As much as I love life, I’m not overly worried about ceasing to exist someday. My parents, too, are at peace with the eventuality of death. They keep a file containing ideas for their own funeral services, including favorite hymns and scriptures. The file is fairly regularly updated and is discussed openly by the family.
Yesterday I made a will; a first for me. I’ve always meant to make one, as it’s fairly well accepted that even if you have very little wealth to leave behind, it’s good to have a written document outlining any special bequests and your preferences regarding your remains. Of course, it’s mostly moot if my husband survives me. But on the off chance we die together (not a terribly unlikely scenario, given our propensity for adventure), this should make things pretty clear.
Wills are an interesting subject. It’s the only way, save ghosting and spooking, that the dead can affect the living, change behavior, make demands, or get a last word in. As you can imagine, there have been some pretty unusual bequests throughout history:
*Mark Gruenwald, executive editor of Captain American and Iron Man comics (Marvel), requested that his ashes be mixed with ink and then used to print coming books. He got his wish.
*Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, successfully requested that his ashes be rocketed into space to orbit the earth (the capsule has since burned in the atmosphere).
*Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, had a friend who always felt cheated that her birthday coincided with Christmas. In his will, he willed her his own birthday to use for the remainder of her life.
*Painter JMW Turner left his paintings to the nation of England and his fortune ‘for the support of the poor and decayed artists born in England.’ His relatives fought this will in court and were able to keep the money for themselves.
*Jeremy Bentham, philosopher of utilitarianism, offered his body for use and study. It remains on display at the University College London.
As for my own will, it’s boring legalese for the most part. Although I did have a little fun with the disposal of my remains:
“In addition to the items granted above, I would like to specify disposition instructions for my remains. I would like my physical remains to be cremated. I would like my ashes to be scattered by my natural-born sisters, Jaima and Caitlin. The ashes are to be scattered as follows: 50% in Riga Latvia, 50% on the island of La Digue in the Seychelles. Feel free to skimp on the Memorial Service so there are more funds for ash-scattering. Feel free to skip having a service at all and just drink whiskey and tell stories and talk about how awesome it was to know me. Possibly around a campfire.”