Feb. 16, 2022

16: Your Final Resting Place

16: Your Final Resting Place

Do you want to be buried near your parents? Want your children to scatter your ashes at your favorite beach? Would your family visit your memorial tree in a forest?
What kinds of things do you need to take into consideration when you're choosing your fin...


Do you want to be buried near your parents? Want your children to scatter your ashes at your favorite beach? Would your family visit your memorial tree in a forest?

What kinds of things do you need to take into consideration when you're choosing your final resting place?

Bonus in this episode: An interview with Mike Szymanski, creator of the #DoxieTombstone in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

 

 

   

 

Transcript

[MIKE:] I cannot believe that all these people have these, you know, elaborate graves and everything. And then they have this slab of granite that is cold, there's no back to it. Mine is a couch!

[CIANNA:] That’s Mike Szymanski, a writer in Los Angeles. If you’re ever in LA, you might want to swing by the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to check out his tombstone. 

[MIKE:] It's an exact replica of the sofa that was a white leather sofa at our house. It was six feet long. I actually butt tested the right kind of granite so that it doesn't get too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter.The water slides off in the rain. 

[CIANNA:] This granite couch is surrounded by bronze sculptures of dogs. Dachshunds to be precise. So it’s come to be known as the Doxie Tombstone.

[MIKE:] Starting from the right there, there's eight dachshunds. And the earliest dachshund is the dog that I had when I was a teenager. Well, elementary school and teenager. Jody, a black dachshund. 

[CIANNA:] 2020 was a hard year for everyone, and i t was particularly hard for Mike. He has MS, multiple sclerosis, and that was affecting his ability to work. 

[MIKE:] And then Rudy and Pepe, who are red dachshunds. Charlie Brown, who I still have who always has a ball in her mouth. Rex, the one-eared dog, is their dad. Rex lost his ear when he fought with a coyote and has only one ear on his marker. There's a big chubby one that is on his hind legs. That is Seal. And Dora's curled up in the front. 

[CIANNA:] As the world shut down from the pandemic, he and his partner of over 20 years broke up and Mike ended up without a place to live. He got depressed. Even suicidal. He got so far as to write a goodbye note and left town. He went to Yosemite. But there he saw a beautiful sunrise that awoke something in him. He remembered a vision he’d had for his tombstone and that rekindled his sense of purpose. He decided to return to LA to make it happen.

[MIKE:] The eighth dachshund is jumping onto the couch. And that's my future dog. So that will represent future dogs that I'll have after these guys are gone.

[CIANNA:] Amazingly, creating his tombstone has helped Mike look towards the future.

[MIKE:] I turned the worst year of my life into a very positive thing I think and — I mean, I have contributed a piece of art to the community of Los Angeles and I’m really proud of that. What I say is: Just have a goal. Have a goal. And my goal was to get this tombstone done. OK, I’m done with it. Now what? Guess what? Now I’m working on a book about it. They’re gonna sell the book at the bookstore at the flower shop in the cemetery. And I want the proceeds from that to go to the fund that pays for the feral cats and the peacocks and the swans at the cemetery. So that’s my next project. You’ve gotta always have a project. You know, no matter how disabled or, you know, near death you are, if you have something to realize that you can live for, whether you get it done or not, you have something to wake up for and do. And you know what? If it’s planning your tombstone, so be it.

[CIANNA:] The front of the Doxie Tombstone couch has Mike’s name and his birthdate. The hyphen is in the shape of a pen followed by a blank space for his eventual death date. There’s an epitaph, too.

[MIKE:] My epitaph says “still bringing people together.” That's what it says at the top of my tombstone over my name. And I'm still bringing people together. I mean, I'm alive and I'm still bringing people together. But when I'm gone, I will still be bringing people together. 

[CIANNA:] I don’t expect you to have such grand plans for your tombstone — or think that designing it will automatically give you a reason to live. But I still want to encourage you to think about your final resting place. I’m not crazy about that term “final resting place,” but everything else the thesaurus offers up are specific locations like “cemetery” or funny ones like “bone yard.” So, final resting place it is. 

On today’s episode, how to think about your final resting place, and what your choice can mean.

This is the fourth episode in the Death Binder series.

[MUSIC STARTS]

Hello and welcome to Dying Kindness, the podcast for people who are going to die someday. I’m Cianna Stewart, and I’m going to die someday. You will, too. So let’s all make some key decisions now in order to be kinder to the people we’ll leave behind. If you don’t know what decisions you need to make or are overwhelmed by the process, I have a handy template to get you started. Just sign up at my website, DyingKindness.com, to get your copy of the Death Binder Template. You’ll find other resources there, too, as well as ways to . Thanks for being here. Let’s get started!

[MUSIC ENDS]

In the last episode, I focused on some of the practical questions regarding body disposition such as, “Do you want to be buried? Cremated? Embalming: yes or no?” 

Today I want to focus on where your body or ashes would end up, the physical location on this earth, what that can mean to the people who will be grieving you, and how to think about this decision. 

If you’ve already told your people where you want to be buried, or where you want your ashes scattered, you’re way ahead of the game. I hope you’ll still get something out of this episode. Maybe I’ll bring up something you hadn’t considered, or might need to consider in the future as your life changes.

For those of you who haven’t yet decided on your final resting place, welcome! Let me help point you to where to start. 

Quick aside: From here on out, just to make it easier, I’m going to use the word “buried” to be inclusive of all the options. You might want to have your body or ashes buried in the ground or at sea. You might want your ashes scattered or your body composted and then distributed. You might want something else entirely. Just to keep this simple, for today I’m referring to all of these as being “buried,” and all location options as a “final resting place.”

I’m about to get into some big questions but you don’t need to take notes right now — I always put show notes and transcripts at DyingKindness.com so you can just listen and keep doing whatever you’re doing. 

Shout-out to Rachel B., a death-doula-in-training, who let me know that she listens to this podcast while she’s jogging.

[CHIME]

I don’t mean to make this topic more complicated than it needs to be. But I’ve come to understand that deciding on a final resting place is not actually as straightforward as it might seem, particularly as our lives — and our family structures — become more complex. In the olden days people lived, died, and were buried in pretty much the same way as their ancestors. Or at least the last handful of generations before them.

That’s not true any more. Now we move away from our birthplaces for education or work or relationships. We might change countries more than once in our lifetimes. We might change religions. We might or might not have our own families. We might live our lives thinking more about the future than the past and want our deaths to reflect this.

There are fewer and fewer givens any more in how we live our lives. We’re probably more used to change than to stability and tradition. And this means that we have choice when it comes to how we will eventually be buried, where our bodies will end up.

Whenever I’ve had a conversation with my friends about all this, I’ve noticed that our conversations usually involve the following topics:

  • Where we live now
  • Where we grew up
  • Our family of origin
  • Our chosen family
  • How and where our ancestors were buried
  • Our religion
  • Our ethnicity or culture
  • Our legacy, how we want to be remembered
  • What we’re passionate about
  • The environmental impact of our choices
  • The cost of our choices, both actual & perceived
  • Who would be convenienced (or inconvenienced) by our choices

There’s often something else personal or quirky that factors in as well, but these are the main ones. Looking at that list, it basically shows that this decision reflects everything about how we live.

I listed these topics out because it’s worth considering them all and figuring out how much each one matters to you. You should not only think about each individually, but also the relative importance of each topic compared to all the other ones. There’s every chance that your choice of final resting place will end up involving some kind of compromise and it’s key to have some guidance if you or your loved ones have to choose between different options.

Of course, not everyone is so thoughtful about this choice. And very few of us will actually build and enjoy our gravesite like Mike and his Doxie Tombstone. But wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to have some fun with it? Maybe you could find some comfort in knowing where your body will finally rest. At minimum, you can feel good knowing that you’ve helped relieve your loved ones of the stress of guessing what you want and hoping they got it right.

When it comes to your final resting place, I suggest starting by thinking about these five questions: 

  1. What specific location or type of location is most meaningful to you? For example: where you were born, where you live now, the ocean, a garden, where you got married.
  2. Is there someone you want to be buried next to?
  3. If you belong to a religion, culture, or family that has particular rules or traditions regarding the handling and disposition of bodies, how important is it to you to follow these for your own disposition?
  4. Are there any environmental or other considerations that you want your loved ones to factor in
  5. How will your requests be covered financially?

These are not yes/no questions and answering them might take a while. To show you how quickly all this can get complicated, let me dig a little into the first question about location.

Let’s imagine that others in your family have been buried in a particular cemetery and you’ve always expected to be buried there, too. If you’re married or partnered, do you expect that person to be interred there as well? How about your children? Have you talked with your partner about this? Is this location convenient for your current family to come visit you? Does that matter to you? Does your spouse’s family have their own traditional burial location? If your families have different locations, how will you and your partner choose? And have you talked with your family of origin about wanting your partner and children buried with you? Are you prepared for your children making a different choice when they get older and have their own families? If your partner lives for many years after you die, their life circumstances might change — what impact might your choice have on that?

You get the picture. It can be complicated. That’s why, even though I often talk about writing your decisions down, I also suggest that you have conversations with the people who would be responsible for making your wishes happen. Because life can get messy and we can’t anticipate every possible circumstance that might come up. It’s best to talk about how you feel about these five questions — and all the topics, really — so that your loved ones would have a better sense of what you would have chosen for yourself in any circumstance.

Once you’ve talked about it, you can write down the main points and put them into your Death Binder.

In the end, our options for final disposition are more like requests or wishes than decisions. What will be possible for your body when you die will be heavily affected by many factors that you might not be taking into consideration. How and where you die can affect the condition of your body and what can be done with it. If you don’t keep your Death Binder up to date, what you request may no longer be relevant to the circumstances of your life at the time you die. New options for body disposition may be available where you’re living that would be a better match for you – and some options may no longer be possible.

[CHIME]

I don’t expect you to remember all these questions right now or be able to answer them quickly. Take your time. Pause and replay this episode. Get the transcript from DyingKindness.com. These questions are also part of the Death Binder Template. 

Quick aside to those of you who got an earlier version of the Death Binder Template - it’s been updated to include these questions. If you didn’t get the update, please let me know.

[MUSIC]

That’s it for today. Special thanks to Mike Szymanski for sharing his Doxie Tombstone with us. I’ll put photos and links in the show notes. If you have a story to tell me, please drop me a line! You can go to DyingKindness.com or email to dyingkindness@gmail.com. Maybe I can include that in a future episode. And don’t forget to share this episode with the dog lovers in your life, or anyone else who might benefit from it.

The theme music is by Blue Dot Sessions. Everything else was done by me. I’m Cianna Stewart, and I’m going to die someday, but hopefully not before I get back to Yosemite myself to see a beautiful sunrise.

[MUSIC ENDS]

Instead of closing with me doing another death reading, I thought I’d share another story from Mike. This is the kind of thing that happens when he’s out there visiting his own tombstone and somebody comes by.

[MIKE:]

I was taking pictures the other day. On my license plate, it says MIKE SZY. And, you know, my name is Mike Szymanski. So it's on the tombstone. But I saw this kid playing with it. And he was taking his crackers and he was feeding the dogs. And he was so cute. “And this one's named this, and this one's name that.” And his mother was off taking pictures. And I went up behind her. And I said, “Can I take some pictures too?” And she says, “Oh, yeah, that's cute.” And I said, “What's his name?” “Ezra.” And so we became friends. We talked for a while. And she looked at my license plate. And then she looked at me. And she said, “You're alive!” And I said, “Yeah. But wouldn't have been really strange if I said I wasn't?” And I love that story. Because I want to someday say that when I'm not alive and really freak people out. That will be a great legend to leave behind.

[BELL]

Mike Szymanski Profile Photo

Mike Szymanski

Mike Szymanski has written about Bisexual issues since the 1990s, and won the first Lambda Literary Award for "The Bisexual guide to the Universe" with Nicole Kristal. He appeared on more than 50 talk shows about the topic.

He was a crime reporter for the Atlanta Constitution, Miami Herald and LA Daily News, and wrote for Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, US Magazine, Zap2it, the LA School Report and SciFi.com for both entertainment, features and film criticism.

Mike recently published two books about Dachshunds available on Amazon, and lives in Hollywood with Multiple Sclerosis and his Dachshunds.