Turning over onto my left side while half asleep in the middle of last night, I felt certain I was dying. Still with my eyes clenched closed but yet, peering over brilliantly radiant, white feathers—elegantly ruffling on the handsome head of a majestic bald eagle—soaring into the darkest void, I experienced flying at breakneck speed, whisked away on the back of a voracious raptor, feeling as if my life’s essence was draining from my body, being sucked away by the vanishing gravitational forces left far behind us. It wasn’t an alarming situation, but rather a surprisingly peaceful finality for which I was willingly mindful to go. What choice was there, anyway? When your number’s up, it’s up; albeit, thank goodness mine wasn’t. I instantly woke up, remaining wide-eyed for the next hour or so.
Now that I’m still vital, the thoughts of the ultimate aftereffects of one’s death went through my head: my flat’s a mess; all my computers were left on with the various cockamamy nonsense still displayed on the screens; my pertinent legal papers needed to be put together into one place for easily finding them when the time comes. What a trying series of events it is for one’s next of kin who has to make the final arrangements. It’s a courteous gesture to have things in order, especially burial; alleviating quite a lot of stress for the executor-and-heir to the estate, however large or small it may be.
I chose to be cremated. A longtime, innate fear of being buried alive was thoroughly ingrained in my memory from watching late-night horror movies as a small child. My elder brother, six years older, let me stay up as he babysat this storyteller while our parents were out painting the town red on occasion. I vividly remember one evening, ingesting brutal scenes of bloodcurdling screams for help to get out of their confining predicament, not being heard; frantic clawing and banging on the lid of a closed coffin, covered with six feet of dirt atop it; horrific, consistent scrapings on the insides of a sealed, wooden casket, until the skin on the victim’s wretched fingers had been grated to the bone; all of which crossed my mind from time to time while attempting to fall asleep, keeping me up for most the night thinking about it; but never did I have a single nightmare about premature interment.
My eventual decision for cremation resulted from many sleepless sojourns. Not only would I not be buried alive, it makes things infinitely easier for everyone. Scatter my ashes from the bank of my beloved Delaware River. No need for a wake, just display my picture as everybody remembered seeing me last. Open up that urn and let my ashen remains fly like an osprey: no fuss, no muss; thank you, very much! I had now piece of mind. That was until today.
Conversing back and forth on Twitter this afternoon, a friend and I were briefly discussing the Edgar Allan Poe House in Philadelphia and the macabre topic of getting buried alive, a common thread in many of Poe’s works from the mid-nineteenth century. I mentioned cremation as my solution for the problem, but was succinctly informed by him that for those awakening during the process, excruciating pain and horror would be evident as well, although lasting for just a few minutes. I hate pain of all types, never mind being charbroiled to death.
Now I’m leaning toward embalmment—a surefire way to make sure one’s dead—whereas I don’t suppose they remove the blood from the body and replace it with formaldehyde before cremating a corpse. Perhaps I can make arrangements with the mortician, most likely at an additional cost, to drain my body fluids as a safeguard. That would certainly give me piece of mind.