Decisions, Decisions: Burial vs. Cremation…vs. Mummification vs. the Mushroom Death Suit vs. Diamonds, Plastics and Fungus
By Jeremy Fancher
If you tend to stray into the eccentric and existential, you might have noticed that our inexorable march towards death is a bit of a conversation killer at bars. But all these prophesies of impending Raptures and world-ending events — such as the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21st, 2012 — open a space to discuss the prospect of a collective, less lonesome demise.
Koldcast TV’s Sci-Fi series Raptured takes a sardonic look at a botched Rapture and a hapless tricenarian women’s foray into administering its completion. Imagine the Rapture not as some grand providential gesture, a flick of God’s wrist and an effortless ushering of our souls into worlds beyond, but rather a managed process akin to all of our souls flying on United Airlines commuter jets out of Chicago O’Hare in a January snowstorm, replete with bureaucratic ineptitude and crushing delays. A weasel-like angel convinces Sarah Bailey to sign a contract, fooling her into accepting responsibility for carrying out the rest of the Rapture with only cryptic tidbits of guidance along the way.
In Raptured, the Rapture is God’s way of rebooting the earth, and when Sarah takes over, about half of the population has just disappeared, apparently reappearing on an Earth 2.0. Unfortunately for us, our bodies don’t just magically disappear. As the Bible says: “For you were made from dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19. In fact, cadaver comes from a Latin phrase meaning flesh eaten by worms. While people die every day, the business of disposing of our remains is largely obscured from the public gaze. So, I’m endeavoring to explore some of the conventional and not-so-conventional burial options for your impending death. You’re welcome.
Click to play Episode 1 of the new Sci-Fi series Raptured
Six Feet Under
Burial is the most popular course in America. Muslims and Jews opt for a quick burial, and disallow public viewing or embalming. But, if you’ve seen a dead body, it was probably on display at a public wake, and likely embalmed — drained of blood and pumped full of preservative chemicals to delay putrefaction and the consequent foul smelling compounds. Embalming typically involves a cosmetic aspect: the body is dressed up with makeup, wax, and dye applied to help give the body the appearance of someone peacefully sleeping, a palatable cadaver.
Sometimes these burials involve unreasonable demands. One man instructed his wife to bury him with all his cash. At the wake, she wrote a check and slipped it into his jacket pocket. No one in the family complained, and neither did he.
Burn n’ Urn
Cremation is another popular choice, accounting for around 40% of deaths in America. Jerry Seinfeld commented: “It’s kind of like covering up a crime — burn the body, scatter the ashes around. As far as anyone is concerned, the whole thing never happened.” A New Jersey Catholic diocese, perhaps getting a little too excited by cremation, called it “the wave of the future.” But, there are those who find the conventional choices far too pedestrian, opting instead to give their remains a more opulent future. Cremation reduces the body to a pile of ashes in 20 minutes, and even an embalmed body begins to decompose within days or weeks. So, how do you give your body the everlasting life it deserves?
One option is to call Corky Ra, a Utah man who founded Summum, which provides “insurance for your afterlife.” For a mere $70,000 (Summum reserves the right to charge more for “very large adults”), Corky will mummify your body for eternal preservation, using techniques derived from organ transplantation to preserve the body for hundreds of years. The process takes 90 days, and at the end your body is filled with amber and buried in rural Utah. Corky calls it the Rolls Royce of funeral services.
If a bronze casket and mummification is too gauche for your tastes, you can head to Elk Grove Village, Illinois and visit a company called LifeGem. Offering a far more economical choice, LifeGem will create a diamond out of the cremated ashes of your loved one for somewhere between $2,000 and $12,000. One woman noted that she just couldn’t bear the thought of her parents’ ashes spilling on the living floor and getting vacuumed up by the housekeeper. And, in a heartfelt moment retold in a testimonial, a boy asked to see daddy again, and kissed his remains now brilliantly gleaming on his mom’s ring finger. A kiss begins with Kay, but a LifeGem is forever.
Some opt for a slightly more utilitarian approach, desiring that their bodies be put to educational use. If typical organ donation or medical experimentation seems passé, you can opt to have your body made into a giant Barbie or Ken doll. Gunther von Hagens invented a technique called plastination, whereby the fluids in a body are replaced with a plastic compound, creating an odorless and sterile corpse. The bodies on display at Body Worlds and Bodies: The Exhibition have been plasticized, allowing visitors to see skeletons, skin, organs, and muscles in a variety of permutations. Thousands have excitedly volunteered to have their bodies plasticized and put on display at one of these exhibitions. After death, the body is transported to a factory in either China or Germany. The process of replacing the body’s water with acetone takes up to a year.
Then, the flexible body is manipulated into a pose to be put on display. The result is a life-like, plastic version of a human that can be used for years. However, accusations surfaced that many of the bodies acquired by the Chinese factory for use at the American exhibitions were in fact executed Chinese prisoners and dissidents. The companies, of course, claim that all the bodies were acquired legally, and that the deaths were from natural causes…
Fungus Among Us
If you’re too shy to have your nude body put on permanent display for thousands to see, and want a more eco-friendly disposal, opt for the Mushroom Death Suit. This environmentally friendly suit, made up of a green sludge and specially trained oyster and shitake mushrooms, will literally eat you after you die. Self-proclaimed bio-artist Jae Rhim Lee is currently in the process of training mushrooms to eat her nails, hair, and skin. She proposes it as a way to confront your impending death pragmatically, and avoid the introduction of toxic chemicals implicit to the embalming process. As of yet, no one has donned one of these post-mortem suits, but hey, how can something called a Mushroom Death Suit not succeed commercially?
Perhaps we’ll luck out and be Raptured to Earth 2.0, or our problems will be solved for us by the rogue planet Nibiru slowly crashing into planet Earth a la Melancholia. But if not, you can plan to assuage your grief stricken survivors with a diamond, mummy, giant Barbie doll, or Mushroom Death Suit. I’m sure they’ll be eternally thankful.
Jeremy Fancher is a second-year student at the University of Michigan Law School. He is left-handed, and wishes he had a dog, which he would name John Elway. Jeremy would hypothetically enjoy taking long walks with said John Elway.