Thoughts from the desk of Dr. John Canine …
ONE CLEAR BODY BAG
It is not enough to start thinking about death, we need to TALK about it. We talk about sex–quite openly–why not death? Not everyone has sex, but everyone dies. It does not make any sense, we need to have some open discussion about death. Like when, where, and how will I die. Do I want family and friends with me when I die? Who does the sanitary disposal of my body when I die? How long do I think I will live, and what will I die from? How will I look in the casket, or will it even be open? What will I wear? I helped a family arrange a funeral for their mother some years ago, and the daughters got into a huge fight over what color dress mother would wear–unbelievable! There are so many topics of discussion when it comes to death, but the bottom line is–we simply do not talk about it.
But here is the deal, when you talk about death you have to talk about life. Why? Because there is no death “experience”, dead people do not have experiences. And, who doesn’t want to talk about life? In fact, I want my funeral, and maybe my death, to represent the way I LIVED. You don’t get the picture. You are having a hard time understanding, let me illustrate.
Some years ago I spoke at the University of North Carolina’s medical school. Only a few medical students attended, but over 200 mortuary science people came. My wife Nanci was with me. After I spoke, the medical director asked me if I would like to see the school and the refrigerator room. My wife quickly answered yes–especially the refrigerator room. She must have thought it has something to do with a kitchen. After touring the first two floors we came up the elevator to the third floor– the refrigerator floor. The smell of formaldehyde was so strong it burned our noses. When we got off the elevator we stood in front of a huge door with the biggest pad lock I have ever seen. Still my wife did not get it–she had no idea. As the medical director unlocked the door, my wife walked in–surprise, surprise, surprise! Over 100 bodies in clear body bags hanging from a hook through their ears on a steel line that looked like “COMA”. The school no longer stores the donated bodies in this manner. They now have drawers! Thank God! My wife stumbled out and I quickly followed. However, we were there long enough to see the first man very clearly. He was about 50 years old, with a lot of hair, tan skin and a smile on his face! He was there to help science, and he looked like he wanted to be there–quite happy! When we got into the elevator my wife was the first to speak. What she said was PROFOUND, “I guess I just saw over 100 life stories, I wish I could hear them”. That is it! That is why we talk about death. Death creates a limit to our living and therefore makes every life story relevant, exciting, and meaningful—whether “good” or “bad”.
So, let’s get busy and start thinking about death, but more importantly let’s start talking about death.
John D. Canine, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Maximum Living Consultants, Inc.
LET’S PICK OUT A CASKET
Are you having trouble thinking and talking about death? I have an idea, go pick out a casket! You do not have to pay for it, and any funeral director will be happy to show you the selection of options. Some funeral homes will have the full casket and some will have just corners and the inside material. Keep in mind the inside material is important—that is what everyone will see and you will feel. Oops, dead people do not feel. Anyway, if this is freaking you out you can call your local funeral home and just go into the office and look at pictures of caskets. You might want to do it online, but I do not recommend that because you need to see the place where all of your family and friends will come to visit you. And besides, if you do it online, then die the next day, you will rest for a couple of days in a building you have never seen– now that is scary–unless you really don’t care! Another thing to remember, your funeral director can help you speak the language of death. Things like embalming, vaults, burial, cremation, cemetery, prayer cards, etc., you get the idea. Why not? Let’s have the conversation. I want to understand how I can be buried the way I’ve lived–“large”–and contented, and you should too. Everyone should understand what is involved with making these end-of-life decisions. Once again, that is why we should think and talk about death. Do not, I repeat, do not leave these decisions to someone else! That is being a coward! Man up! (or, woman up!) Be strong! Death is a whole lot less scary when we confront it head-on. And, understanding our space/ time limitations usually releases all kinds of creativity–a big thank you to Martin Heidegger and Kubler-Ross (“freedom towards death”).
Now, you are wondering if I practice what I preach–right? Of course I do. A few years back, in full health, I visited a funeral home to speak with the owner. I did know him, which made it easier to discuss the purpose of my visit. At first he did not have a clue. Then he thought I was joking. I got very serious, “Tom, I am here to plan my funeral or at least the sanitary disposal of my body–so please help me”! I want to start with the casket. Tom agreed, and he took me in the office to look at pictures. Not enough. If you know me I am a “hands on” person. I want it to appeal to my senses: see, feel, smell, etc. So, we went into the selection room. At that time he had a lot of full caskets–no partial caskets. I started to walk around. Then, there it was! And, all of the sudden, the angels sang, the skies opened, and I experienced overwhelming peace. In front of me was the green and gold steel casket that I had seen in the pictures. Green is the color of Ohio University, Athens, Ohio (I played basketball there–not that you care!), but such perfection and beauty. I had never seen a casket so beautiful. I moved closer to it and started to touch the silk lining–wow, it was awesome! Tom was behind me observing. He knew what I was doing. I was picturing myself in that casket. That’s right–what an experience! Very liberating! In a moment I heard his voice say in a whisper, “you would look good in there”. I started to laugh, he laughed. But in the end, we both understood. Death is something that does not tolerate avoidance. It will surprise you, engulf you, and terminate you. To ignore it produces insecurity and anxiety. To accept it is freedom towards life. Think about it and talk about it–we all will be better for it.
John D. Canine, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Maximum Living Consultants, Inc.