You hear the most interesting things when you listen.
I just had an unusual conversation with my mom.
We were talking about someone who had just died–no one that close to us, but a relative of a someone we both care about. Our discussion meandered to the expenses surrounding funerals.
Someone asked, “What about giving your body to science? I heard it’s free.”
I’m pretty sure my mom asked, because:
1. She says what’s on her mind without any filters since she’s turned 80.
2. She’s on a fixed (and dwindling) income.
3. She watches a lot of “true” crime and forensics shows on TV.
4. I already know about the topic because I’ve made arrangements to give my body to science.
My mom wanted intel on everything from the pick-up of the dearly departed to the eventual delivery of whatever remained.
Mom may have had me confused with someone who works in the dead body business.
She was curious and I was the closest thing to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume D, Section: Death, Sub-Section: Donations to Science.
Here’s how our conversation went.
Mom: “How do they know you are dead?”
Me: “I’m registered with them and carry a card in my wallet. Phil has my card in his wallet, too. Plus all the forms are in my ‘death documents,” so–”
Mom: “Death documents?”
Me: “Yeah, my will, health care proxy, you know?”
Mom: “Oh, I thought you needed some special document to die in Washington.”
Me: (Chuckling) “Not that I know of. Anyway. When I’m dead, someone calls the number on that card and the ‘Science Care’ people are supposed to send someone to pick me up and cart me away.”
Mom: “Who picks you up?”
Me: “I don’t know. They must have contracts with various companies all over the country.”
Mom: “Probably not with funeral homes. They would be mad because they’re losing business.”
Me: “No, probably not with funeral homes. More likely with private ambulance companies or whoever is licensed to transport dead bodies. They must have a system, but I don’t know what it is.”
Mom: “What if you were murdered?”
Me: “Um…I suppose they would have to wait until my body was released to the family after the investigation was complete.”
Mom: “Makes sense.”
Me: “Really? You think I could be murdered?”
Mom: “You never know, Lorna. It happens more often than you think. Do they ever reject a body because it’s too old?”
Me: “No, because mostly they use the bodies for medical school cadavers and for forensic experiments. Let’s say they wanted to test the effects of a chemical fire on human flesh. They could put an old body in a building or enclosure and burn it. They can learn lots of things from old bodies, trust me.”
Mom: “But I want my ashes scattered in the Atlantic Ocean.”
Me: “Hmm. All I know is they say they will provide your cremains to the person you designate if you want them returned. I have no idea how they do that if they use your body for experimentation. I bet if you say you want your cremains returned, they make sure you are used as a cadaver for medical students…but I can’t be sure.”
Mom: “And this is free?”
Me: “Yup. All you have to do is fill out some forms and sign up. But they do say that there is a small chance they won’t accept your body…a real small chance, but they reserve the right not to take you into the program.”
Mom: “I thought you said they took even old bodies!”
Me: “They do, but let’s say your body was unusable for dissection or already decomposed, they really couldn’t do much with you, right?” (Anticipating her confusion, I added) “What if I went bungee jumping over a cement platform and the cord broke? My body would be splattered on the pavement and they’d have to scrape me up with a shovel (I actually said this to my mom). They probably wouldn’t take me.”
Mom: “Makes sense. Could you give Tina (my older sister and her primary care giver) the information. I want to do this. Did you sign up just to save the money?”
Me: “Well, I never liked the idea of spending a lot of money on caskets and funerals, but I mostly did it as my last gift to society. If I can teach one last thing to someone, then, I want to do that.”
Mom: “Yes, I like that idea. And it’s free.”
Me: “It’s definitely free, Mom.”
We began talking about other things, but, for the life of me, I can’t remember what. She never flinched at the idea of her daughter being murdered or reduced to mush on the pavement.
She’s a pragmatist. When you’re dead, you’re dead. You won’t feel a thing.
My mom celebrating her 82nd birthday. Soon to be among the thousands carrying that card that says, “I’m giving this sassy bod to science. Cart me away for free!”
What’s the most bizarre conversation with anyone you’ve had lately?
My most sincere apologies to anyone whose religious, moral or human sensibilities were offended by this rather blunt discussion of death and corpses. I suppose when you’re 82 and my mom, you don’t have a great deal of time to fancy-dance around the realities of life. I get that.