I like to talk about death.
I realize that this is a topic many people shy away from. I’m not sure why we are so afraid to talk about death. It seems that our culture is obsessed with it (more so putting it off than embracing the inevitable), so why are so few conversations had about it?
I think many people have a morbid curiosity. How many times have you slowed down while passing a car accident? Think about the ghost tours you’ve been on, or cemeteries you’ve walked through at night. Even if the idea of death scares you, somewhere, perhaps on a subconscious level, you’re secretly intrigued. And that’s perfectly fine. The unknown is intriguing.
For me, I don’t surround myself with death. I don’t collect photographs of crime scenes, nor do I actively pursue my own death. Rather, I’m more interested in the educational opportunities that the dead provide us with — how better to learn about the human body than to study a cadaver? I’m also very interested in how other cultures not only view death, but the different practices and rituals they associate with it.
My family is pretty open-minded and have a natural curiosity about death. So when I brought up the unique burial grounds in Tana Toraja at lunch yesterday, they rolled with it, jumping into an hour-long discussion about death, ancient customs, cremation, body donation, and so on. Not long after I left, my grandpa emailed me with more information about the people of Tana Toraja.
“The people of Tana Toraja, an island in Indonesia, have a richly developed body of practices for mourning. Among them is a unique approach marking the death of a baby. If a child dies before s/he teethes, the family cuts a hole into the side of a tree and places the body inside. The tree regrows around the baby’s body and absorbs it. One guide explained the practice to traveller Chris Dunham by saying, “We bury the babies in this tree so the wind can waft away their souls.”
Although bizarre, I think this is an incredibly beautiful practice. Of course, I realize that not everyone will agree with me on this, but that’s the beauty of having a supportive family. Approval, seek not. (I had a Yoda moment just there.)
I’m still young, but I’ve given serious thought to what I want done with my body after I die. When I was 23 I registered to donate my body to science — I even got a fancypants ID card and everything. Five years later, I couldn’t be more sure of that decision. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from others’ donations. It seems only fair to follow in their footsteps and enrich someone else’s life. But it doesn’t end there. There are still so many customs that I would like to learn more about.
In fact, I’ve been mentally preparing a few trips. Most recently, the pyramids in Egypt. That’s a crazy expensive trip, but I am fascinated by their rituals (did you know they had a god of embalming?). And of course, the catacombs in Paris. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to talk the manfriend into joining me (He wants his body to be shot out of a cannon into Lake Michigan by the way.) but I’m really looking forward to planning these upcoming adventures, solo or not.