I used to think applying for a mortgage was invasive… until I applied for a term life insurance policy. The process is essentially like applying for a mortgage, and having your last 10 years’ medical history of you and your immediate family audited, then you get a physical and lab tests.
The concept of life insurance is strange because it’s not really for you. It’s also creepy when you think about the actuary somewhere whose job is to calculate the likelihood that you’re going to bite the wax tadpole before the policy expires. Eventually, an underwiter assigns a dollar amount balancing your riskiness with the company’s responsibilities to its stakeholders. Smoking quadruples your premium while having moderately high cholesterol or blood pressure merely doubles it. (Thankfully, neither of these applies to me.) If you currently fly airplanes, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do. For example, despite my assertion that I sold my plane and aviation library and have no intention of flying in the foreseeable future, I was still asked four pages of questions ranging from the time on my (former) plane’s engine to what kind of terrain I (used to) fly (in my former plane) over to when I (formerly) had recurrency training. The actuaries’ pencils moved feverishly with each answer.
As if life insurance weren’t enough of a downer, a friend of mine has been ill with a kidney problem and an in-law just went into the hospital a few days ago with congestive heart failure. It might seem thematically appropriate that last week’s book du semaine was Mary Roach’s Stiff.
So it’s fair to say that I’ve been thinking a lot about mortality lately.
Although macabre, Stiff is an intellectually refreshing change from my often subject-driven book binges, and it’s written well-enough that I was willing to read it straight through on the bus trip back from Vancouver last Sunday. My fellow passengers were awfully quiet on the trip back, perhaps unnerved by my alternating laughter and cringing. Or, maybe they were just tired.
The book spurred some thinking on how I want to be, um, disposed of.
I do want some permanence. However, there seems to be something fundamentally wasteful about being pumped full of formaldehyde (or whatever), put on display, then buried in a mahogany box lined with Corinthian Leather. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’ve watched the TV show Six Feet Under.
From what I’ve read in Stiff, organ donation is a no-brainer (ha ha) and would have no bearing on aesthetics should I wuss out and want the Corinthian Leather. Which I won’t. I signed my organ donor card a long time ago.
While it might be conceptually cool to donate my body to science and be the classroom skeleton, the book was clear that what happens to you isn’t something you have a choice in. The more likely scenario is I’d be some kind of crash test dummy. Even though I would have no use for my body anymore, this doesn’t seem right. I’d rather have my corpse cremated, liquified or turned into low-fat Soylent Green.
Then there’s the whole remaining presence aspect. Ashes in an urn is too weird. Besides, my kids would find some way of knocking it off the mantle. Similarly, a burial plot seems pointless because nobody goes to cemetaries for fun.
I want to be associated with fond memories.
I’ve often seen signs on the side of the road, usually commemorating someone killed in an alcohol related accident. For example, on East Lake Sammamish there’s one “In Memory of Keri Lynn Jannusch.”
Every time I’ve passed the sign, I’ve wondered who she was. There’s no information. (I looked, both around the sign and online.) (Edited: She was killed in a drunk driving accident in 1988.)
Extending that further, I thought a park bench or a cool tree-shaded play area where would be nice if there was a little plaque with an explanation of who I was and that I was mostly harmless.