Most Americans fear death. In our culture death is a problem, an ultimate defeat, rather than a natural part of the life cycle. As a result of this fear, we are reluctant and even fearful to even talk about death. We avoid anything that could be deemed too "morbid".
But death is a natural part of the lifecycle, and it's important to talk about it. I, for one, am the kind to have those "morbid" thoughts about life after my death. I'm aware that I could die suddenly just as easily as I could die of old age, and I want the comfort of knowing that my desires would be obeyed whether I was able to communicate them myself or whether a family member had to communicate them for me after my sudden passing. To me, being in charge of the decisions regarding my death is an issue of body autonomy and self-determination, just like consensual sex and reproductive rights. Therefore, I'm uneasy thinking about the decisions other people might make after my death "in my name" without really knowing my true wishes, and you might be, too. So, I'll go ahead and break the ice and share some of my own dying wishes:
If I'm dying, I don't want any extraordinary measures taken by the hospital staff. I don't want to be a brain-dead vegetable hooked up to life support while my organs fail one by one. Especially if I'm a match for somebody somewhere... the sooner my organs get to them, the better. Yes, of course, I want to donate my organs. I want to donate all of me actually, not just the easy stuff like my liver and kidneys. I choose to donate my hair, my skin, my eyes, even an entire hand or leg-- all of me. If it means a father gets to walk his daughter down the aisle, a wife gets to hold her husband's hand again, a little boy gets to see, or a sober addict gets another shot with another liver? I'm in.
If I die before I'm married, treat my boyfriend as if he's my husband. Don't forget him in this process. And married or unmarried, let my partner freeze my eggs if he wishes. Then he can have my child later when he's ready if he would like. That would please me greatly.
And anything that can't be donated directly to a human being? Give it to science. Research gives us the technological advances that let us live longer, healthier lives. Cadavers give future doctors invaluable learning experience, and then they go on to help people live longer healthier lives. So I want whatever parts of me that cannot be donated directly to a human being to be donated to a lab or research project that can then use my body to help some future human being.
And after all of that, if there's anything left of me, I want to be cremated. I don't want to take up unnecessary space, decaying in an expensive, fancy box in an expensive, fancy grave my family had to pay for. Let them go out to dinner or make a donation in my name with the money they save. Let them plant my ashes in a community garden somewhere and let them harvest the strawberries and tomatoes and sweet potatoes months later, thinking of me.
Let my loved ones have first take at my belongings, then donate the rest. If I'm fortunate enough to leave any money to my name, let it matter, somehow. Don't let it build a library or church in my name. Don't let it be squandered by a child or spouse that probably doesn't really need it. And don't give it to relief efforts, like hunger or vaccinations. Those may be good causes, for some people, but they aren't my causes. Instead, give any money I have to people and organizations tackling the root causes of inequality and structural violence. Give it to micro-funds for female entrepreneurs in Central America and give it to community-building initiatives in my own hometown.
I urge you, talk to your family and loved ones. Don't let your fear of death or discomfort with the topic get in the way of your right to body autonomy and self-determination, even after death.