Note: this was originally posted elsewhere and was moved here in December 2020.
Do you remember the art project Learning to Love You More?
Learning to Love You More was a crowdsourced art project/experiment created by artists Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. July and Fletcher would post art assignments to the website, and people all over the world would do the assignments and send back a report with information about the work they created. The project was active for 2002 to 2009. I still think about it sometimes, even though it finished ten years ago and I never did any of the assignments. But the website has been acquired and archived by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and all the assignments are still up. I know the best time to start a project is yesterday, but better late than never, am I right?
I used to do a lot of art–drawing, painting, embroidering, weaving, etc. etc. etc. However, over the last few years, my time has been eaten up by other commitments–full time job, part time job(s), grad school, gym, trying to be a good partner (first world problems, I know). I miss creating; I miss playing with things and taking a bunch of disparate objects and turning them into something new and, if not exactly beautiful, maybe interesting. I also miss using art as a way to figure things out about myself; for me, it’s a way of slowly circling toward a sense of truth. I thought using some of the assignments in Learning to Love You More would be a great place to start.
A few of the assignments feel a bit overwhelming to me right now–for example, #3 is to make a documentary video about a small child. Well, at the moment I don’t know any small children, and it seems weird to just ask the students whom I barely know in my grad program if I can film their children (also, I don’t really ‘get’ kids, anyway–but maybe that’s the point? I’m supposed to ‘grow’?). As such, I chose something that seemed a bit more do-able. You know, to dip my toes in the water, build up my confidence and all that. So, for my first project, I chose Assignment #51: Describe what to do with your body when you die, because why not begin with the end?
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this. I remember being much younger and reading an article about a company that will put your cremated remains into a firework. This appeals to the part of me that has always loved to be loud and obnoxious. There are also several companies that will put your remains into a tree, and since I love the great outdoors (and would like to attempt to make-up for my enormous carbon footprint), I thought about this for a while too. Donating my body to medical science was at the top of my list for awhile, but then I found out that cadavers that have donated organs aren’t eligible for donation.
Finally, I decided I want to be an organ donor and have whatever’s left just get cremated. I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe that my body is inextricably linked with my soul, or that what makes me ‘me’ is at all linked to a physical body other than that this meat container is currently facilitating the chemical reactions that act as the vehicle for my soul. As such, I don’t feel like I have a good reason not to allow my body to be used for a good purpose after I die.
I want to be a generous person. I want to be kinder. I often feel like I fall short of that goal. I lose my patience with people, or I act out of a place of fear instead of a place of empathy or abundance. Maybe this last act–giving bits of myself up so that others can live better lives–can help make up for the many ways in which I feel like I’m not giving enough.
Depending on the state, you can register at the state or federal level. In my current state, I have to register through the state’s website–which requires a driver’s license of the state I live in (and since I currently moved, I should get one). You can also decide limitations on what tissues you do or do not want to donate (in case you have anything you don’t want coming out of you). Additionally, organ and tissue donation does not affect what you look like (so if you want to have an open-casket for the rest of your bits, your family can arrange one without you looking totally disfigured).
It seems a little morbid to think about these sorts of things, but I like having a plan. I also think having a plan takes the pressure off my family–if I’ve already laid out what I want, they don’t have to worry about trying to imagine what I would want, or asking themselves why they didn’t know, and then going into some weird shame spiral about how they should have known, etc. etc. etc. (Or maybe it’s just me who’s worried about that.) My partner recently shared that he’d like to be buried in a mushroom suit. I’m glad I know, so that (god forbid) anything happens, I’ll know what he wants.
Have you decided what to do with your body when you die? Feel free to share in the comments.