Mid April, I received the dreaded call. It was actually a Facebook messenger video request. There was no doubt, I knew before I answered, my father had just passed away. My brother called me from the nursing home where my dad took his last breath just seconds prior to Mom and him walking in.
We knew this was coming and arrangements were in the works for my dad’s care for the next few months. Months we knew would end in his eventual demise. Having it happen, there and then, so early, came as a shock. We talked, we consoled my mom (over video for me) and left it at that. I would call them back the next day to talk logistics.
Logistics: This of course is where my PF brain would kick in. Find a flight, flights on Sunday are $800 less then Saturday, should I wait that extra day?; rent a car; I’ll be going alone so a small car will do; Buy a suit? Dang it, I only have a light colored suit, I really need something darker; Shit, I’ll never wear that suit again. Okay, all of this is going to run me at least $3,000. This is why we have emergency funds.
I talked to my brother the next morning.
Me: I’ll fly out on Sunday, should be there on Monday and I’ll stay at my moms. I’ll also need to buy a suit, I might see if I can rent one.
Broer: “Dude, don’t buy a suit, there won’t be a funeral, dad donated his body to the Academic Hospital in Nijmegen”.
me: “Wait what? What about the ceremony?”
Broer: “No ceremony, they don’t have money for that. We’ll just have a get-together at mom’s place”
me: “Is that what he wanted?”
I’m all new to this. Dad is the first close relative to die, where we are responsible for the aftermath. Never really thought about the cost of funerals or cremation. Turns out, the average cost of death (calling it what it is) is between $7,000 and $10,000, should you choose a funeral and $2,000 to $4,000 for a cremation. At the age of 50 you could buy burial insurance at potentially $150 to $200 a year which would mean that if you died at 100 you may have paid up to $10,000. With insurance you carry the burden yourself but without, this cost may be passed on to the ones you left behind.
I’m sure numbers weren’t on my Dad’s mind but donating his body was a smart financial decision. In the Netherlands it is all taken care off, without a single financial care. Logistics are all taken care of as well, the coroner came at 3 in the morning to pick up my dad’s remains and that was the last we saw of him. All arrangements after that were taken care of by the hospital.
I personally was torn about all of this. My Dad was an artist, he retired at 55 and threw himself into his passion of sculpting and casting (see his work here bronsbeeld.net). He taught engineering for 30 years and then again taught sculpting/casting in retirement. He knew a lot of people and well, lets be honest, would have been very proud of a large gathering in his memory. I personally thought he would have wanted a ceremony. Also, my dad, grew up in a monastery and only left the brotherhood to teach. He had since estranged from the church, but would still sneak into the local chapel whenever he could to talk to god. I would have thought, last rights or some religious proceedings, may have been in order.
What I’ve come to accept since then is that whatever happens after one passes, it maybe should be more about the ones left behind. What’s the point of spending $10,000 on the deceased. Let’s get real, they’re deceased. You think they care?
Instead of a church service or a large ceremony we had a small “party”. Yes, I’m calling it a party as we didn’t so much mourn his death but instead celebrated his life. We were joined by the same group of family and close friends that would have been invited to their 50th wedding anniversary next year. The same group of family and friends that were there for every important celebration in my dad’s, and not to forget my mom’s life. Mom is still there and this was as much about her as it was about Dad.
We talked about his life. We wondered how well he turned out given the horrible start he had growing up in Nijmegen on the front line of Netherlands’ Liberation. Amazed at all the brushes with death he encountered prior and yet lasted so long (more than one angel on his shoulder). His former colleagues and close friends reminisced of dad’s impulsiveness and how it almost brought down the house when he decided to tear out walls that really needed to be there. All this, surrounded by his life’s work in the shape of countless pieces of art he made over the years scattered around the house. His life and work was remembered and celebrated and if he was looking down on us (my son is convinced he is) I think he would have been pleased.
As for the large crowd’s that wouldn’t be; Instread, we received hundreds of cards from friends, far and near. Cards my Mom can cherish and that will last so much longer than any fleeting ceremony or funeral.
All the doubts and trepidation, I initially had with the thought of my dad’s remains being donated are gone. I think it was the best thing he could have done. Not only did he spare my Mom the cost of some expensive ritual, out of it came something much better. Rest in peace papa.
Ben van Lier
If donating your relatives body (or your own) is something you would consider, do your research. There are many options (not all of them free). Start here: http://www.wikihow.com/Donate-Your-Body-to-Science and take it from there.