“Today we’re going to get into small groups,” my thanatology teacher announced as she handed out a list of questions we were supposed to answer based on course and lecture material. The challenge: planning Wonder Woman’s funeral.
Wonder Woman, according to our assignment, had passed away after many years of kicking butt as a sexy caped crusader in the name of justice. Because she was loved the world over Ms. Wonder Woman’s only direct request was that her funeral service, body disposition (what’s done to the body), and final disposition (the body’s final resting place) equally include all of the many unique death-related practices from around the world without offending or marginalizing anyone. The request was sweet … but not simple.
As my three funeral planning collaborators and I sat puzzling over whether to go with cremation or embalming it became clear that even in a world where superheroes roamed the Earth, despite appearing noble and loving for a universal icon to not choose favorites when it came to cultures, her request wasn’t practical or even possible. Not only are many of the death-related traditions vastly different, it’s flat out impossible to sprinkle someone’s cremains and embalm them while simultaneously doing a green burial, it just can’t happen. And, therefore, someone’s not going to be happy.
“Ugh. If only Wonder Woman had just said what she wanted,” one of my partners moaned. “Then people could’ve accepted the funeral choices, whatever they were, as honoring her wishes even if wasn’t what they would’ve done.” Unfortunately for us Wonder Woman had not considered the level of stress and frustration her vague request would cause her funeral planners.
As I weighed various personal, cultural, and religious reasons for cremation versus embalming trying to determine which one Wonder Woman would’ve preferred, it occurred to me that “don’t spend a lot of money”—my only stipulation for my own funeral and body disposition—was just as unpractical and potentially problematic as Wonder Woman’s request. No matter how well my family knew me they would still be left guessing about the specifics: “Would she have preferred embalming, cremation, or an earth burial? What about a viewing? Should it be a secular or religious funeral? And what about a grave marker?”
I realized not giving my family any details would be like when a friend says “You know what I like” in response to what she wants for lunch. Instead of her nonspecific order helping the situation, it just makes things unnecessarily difficult for everyone. It might be impossible to please all the inhabitants of Earth, but I can at least take some of the future burden off of my family members by given them at least a few more practical details about what I’d prefer.