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Wow. In a coincidence just begging to be explained as as mystic omen, I just got back from my father's funeral.

Indeed,as you mentioned, despite a (politely) religious wing of the family, it was an atheist event. We told stories and remembered him and cried a lot. My earlier comment about a persistent "soul" in the form of other people's memories came up.

It was sudden and essentially painless, which is a pleasant way to die if you're going to die, but made it exceptionally traumatic for the rest of us. And you always think "but he was enjoying life so much, what happened?"

Certainly it's tempting to search for reasons at such a time, but I don't remember anyone ever expressing such questions. He died, there is no more, wow that hurts.

Because it was so unexpected, he hadn't expressed any wishes for what to do, so one big source of stress was deciding. A whole bunch of family, each with subtly different assumptions, and no cultural traditions to refer to.

It worked out all right in the end, but it was stressful for my mother at a time when more stress was Not A Good Thing.

When making plans, think about the scheduling. It takes a few days to gather family and a particular space can take longer. Do you want the body to be present? Jewish tradition, which calls for burial within 24 hours and mourning afterwards, provides an alternative.

(I honestly don't know what christian traditions are on the subject. I've seen funeral services in movies, but they never describe the interval between the death and the service.)

Deirdré Straughan

I don't know whether my dad is thinking about his funeral (which probably won't be soon), but it's likely to cause conflict. He's in the process of converting to Judaism, while the rest of us are rampant atheists, and I deeply dislike the idea of having to do some religious thing at a time when I'd probably prefer to remember the first 65 years of his life.

For myself, I don't want my corpse to be present. Donate anything useful and burn the rest, scatter the ashes someplace that means something to me (Mussoorie, India, where I went to school). Talk, sing, laugh, cry, remember - that will be plenty.

King Aardvark

Hey, that green cemetery thing looks like a neat idea. Do they have a wall in a corner with the names of all those people being "recycled" there, or is it just the field?

For some reason, my wife and I have been talking about funerals a lot recently. It really pisses me off how many people will ignore their family members for years, never traveling to visit, etc, then when one of them dies, they'll fly thousands of miles at great expense for a funeral (that they also pay a portion of) that's also at great expense. It's sad. First, not only should people spend more time and money on each other when they're all still alive. Second, I don't want my last act as a human being to be to suck several thousand dollars out of the pockets of my loved ones. I'd be perfectly happy if they just dumped my body in a ditch next to the railroad tracks (so to speak - in real life, that gets a little messy when someone finds the body and the police hunt you down asking about why you would dump a body of a loved one - get fined for littering?).

Anyway, I'd like my funeral to be cheap and unpretentious. People can mourn, share stories, laugh, whatever. When my grandfather died, we just had a wake in the living room. He's still sitting there in a pot. Replace the pot with a couch and it'd be a very fitting memorial :-)


I've had my death planned out for a while via

I really do thank you for the link on green burials. I wanted to donate my body to science because I wanted the physical body to go to some good after I died. Last act of charity and all that. But when I was a kid, I wanted to die and be buried so I could give back to the earth and help make the plants grow. I was then informed that you couldn't be buried like that... you had to be embalmed and put in a vault and a coffin. So that kinda threw that out. Now I see that giving back to the earth IS a choice... so maybe I'm going to have to rethink what I want done with my body. Maybe I can give the living a choice with what to do with it.

Also, you mentioned the whole mourning vs. celebrating thing, and I think you got it right. Before, I wanted a party right after the mourning session, but I think I'm going to need a memorial service that's sad and mournful and that lets people grieve then like a month later a "Celebration" party that's the happy part to have everyone get together and have a good time in my honor.

Robert Madewell

My wife and I talked about this just the other day. Just about all of my family and some of her family are devout christians. I can tell that my relatives are very concerned about where I will be going after I die. So, I decided to give them a little hope. I told my wife that if I die first, to tell my family that I had a "death bed confession." It's kind of like the creationist argument about Darwin's confession. Just the kind of drama and intrigue I like. Also, I like the green cemetary idea. Maybe, I could be buried unembalmed in a horse pasture in the Ozarks where I live. (I know just the place.) Cremation is probably how I'll go. I don't see any reason to clutter up a good lot just to give me a place to "rise first" (1 Th 4:16) since I am not a fundie anymore. I also see little point anymore of trying to preserve my body. What I really would like is to have a happy funeral. A party that my family can all get together to talk and eat until they explode. Our family parties are the greatest and I enjoy them greatly. I use any excuse to get my family together for these parties and my departure should be the last excuse. Of course, I need to keep in mind that this is for my family and friends. Regrettably, I will not be able to attend.


I live believing in the experiences of my mind and senses, so I would like a funeral that offers those parts of my life to the attendees: a summary of my life and life works (perhaps in picture, booklet or video form), lots of music, especially Black Bird and yes, even Louis Armstrong. And a pair of Ray Ban cruisers for each attendee. Lots of wine, and good food. I would hope that my children (and if I'm lucky grandchildren) would be comforted by the experience.


Hefty bag. Curbside. Unfortunately, state laws kind of frown on that pragmatic an approach to cadaver removal, so I'm going for cremation and scattering in my favorite National Park. I may arrange for a cenotaph on the family plot where my parents are planted, though, complete with appropriate epitaph.

I would like to believe that when I go there will be a few tears shed at the memorial service, but if people just want to get shit-faced and "celebrate" my life, that's fine, too. I won't be the one paying for the beer.


Regarding my corpse, I always say "toss it to the wolves" or "dump it in the woods." Really, I'd probably have it donated. Either strip out parts for transplants and cremate what's left or toss it in a corpse farm to study decomposition (which isn't much different than tossing it in the woods). Even as a believer oh so many years ago I had that attitude; either way, I'm not using it any more!

I haven't really thought about funeral arrangements though. 25 seems a bit early to worry about such things, but it probably wouldn't hurt to have some basic idea. Probably just ask them to have a small gathering of close family and friends at someone's house. Have drinks and food and talk, laugh, and cry.


As my funeral would probably my last chance to get a word in, and perhaps only chance to to talk without fear of interruption, I'd want to take it.

If it carried with it the chance to gently tweak a few noses, I wouldn't say no to that either.

I don't expect people not to be sad. When we buried my grandmother about five years ago, it was a beautiful graveside ceremony - a little raw and unpolished, but from the heart. An absolutely exquisite day. With no God stuff to suck all the love and light out of it, thankfully. The tears are among my most treasured memories of that day and I wouldn't want to take that away from anyone else when I go.

But I have come to the conclusion that people should not try to
sanitize what they remember about me - remember the good stuff, sure - I love to be thought well of! But also remember the bad stuff - it's all part of who I was (the 'was' that will be when I finally pop my clogs, that is).

Either way, I hope they can try to take some value from whatever they can remember (even if it's "don't do what he did"), and that will do me just fine.


I have spent a lot of time cataloging the local cemetaries and taking pictures of the tombstones there. As a result I have given some thought to my eventual demise. I like the idea of donating my body to science, harvest what ye can and if anything is left over then burn it and my loved ones can figure out where the best place for those ashes might be. A friend of mine got diagnosed with diabetes. We decided to throw a party for him. Needle exchange vouchers, clogs and sugar free peeps being just some of the gifts. A friend of ours thought that this was bordering on inappropriate. So we said 'Hay, its diabetes not a brain tumor. Of course if it was a brain tumor we would be saying "at least it isn't an aneurysm" and we would stilll have to have a party. But then if it was an aneurysm then we would be saying "at least it isn't a strok" and a party would be in order. However if it was a strok then we would still have to have a wake so no matter what happens we are going to have a party." He was fine with a party after that. The lesson being that every one of lifes tragedies we will cause us hold a party. As such my survivors will have to throw a party. Not for me but for them.

Tim W.

As you might guess, what I'm picky about is the music, which must include "Deliver Me" by Robin Holcomb.


I know I've already mentioned what I want done with my body: Take out anything useful and then wrap me in unbleached cloth and put me in the ground and plant stuff on my grave, preferably a blackberry bramble and maybe something my friends could smoke together in a few months. Bodies are the ultimate recyclable.

As for a ritual, I'm obsessed with the idea that in my death, all the weird and diverse parts of my life could finally come together. Friends from high school and college, strippers and callgirls and rentboys, perverts of all stripes, political activists and community health workers, musicians, teachers and school administrators, and all mixed in, every middleschool student or graduate who has ever felt helped by me. What a wild time! Everyone would talk about me and the pervs and activists would hear what I did all day in the schools and the students would find out I wasn't the square they assume all educators must be. I have to admit that the best part of this for me is: EVERYONE WOULD TALK ABOUT ME. Hey, if you can't be the center of attention in death...


I really enjoyed this post and the comments. I want my memorial service to be done in a small family-run restaurant, the style of cuisine not important as long as the cuisine is fresh and tasty.

It would be a great idea to direct funerals away from the big business funeral parlors to a vanishing breed of enterprise, the family-owned restaurant! Restaurants are often the place for birthday parties, why not end-of-life parties?

And perhaps the prevalence of end-of-life parties would enable people to cope better with the reality of their own impending death and enable them to focus on the preciousness of their life while they still have it, instead of the typical non-coping mechanism of ignoring the eventuality of their death (unless of course we figure out how to be immortal, then scratch my suggestion).

Being a very sensual person who loves cooking, I would love for my friends to be smelling and tasting a delicious meal, not to mention wine, while confronting the reality of my death. They can cry into a yummy soup.

And I do regard my body as the 'ultimate recyclable.'


Sorry Greta, I'm more with your former "woo" self on this one. I'd like my family to have a big happy family get-together and wake for the deceased. We had that right after my grandmother's and grandfather's funerals, and I've always thought the only thing better that what we had would be the same thing without the church service beforehand.

OTOH, I wouldn't object to them holding a brief memorial service right before the wake. But I would want any eulogizing to be two-sided. Talk about the bad things as well as the good--remember me for who I was, not who you-all would have liked me to be.


"I told my wife that if I die first, to tell my family that I had a "death bed confession." It's kind of like the creationist argument about Darwin's confession."

Robert, please don't do that! That sort of thing reinforces these people's beliefs that atheists are really Christians in denial, and when faced with death we can't "hold out" any longer. It might seem good for a laugh, but it makes things harder for the rest of us.


Deirdré, you may want to read up on Jewish funeral customs. In many ways, they're really rather nice (if you play Reform jew and omit the more legalistic Orthodox details), and possibly adaptable to your situation. In particular, step #1 is "get rid of the body". This must be done within 24 hours of the death (with a possible 24 hour extension if the sabbath intervenes), followed by a period of mourning which is for the survivors. Sitting shiva properly requires a lot of cooperation from the neighbors. (One family I knew posted handouts on their door explaining it.) Others bring food, and while friends *should* visit, the family has no social obligations to them. They are not greeted, but let themselves in, and sit quietly and companiably until they are acknowledged by the mourners. There are a bunch of other details, but the point is that they are all about the family, and not the deceased, so that part you can modify as you like. And read a few sources, not just the Orthodox ones. E.g. while an unrepaired tear in one's clothes is the traditional sign of mourning, wearing a piece of torn black ribbon is a common substitute. One restriction worth noting is that Jewish custom has never appreciated cremation, a feeling that became particular intense after the Holocaust. I'm not saying that you want to do any of this, but I generally get along pretty well with jews - they understand the whole "minority religion" thing - and it may be possible to work something out.

Nurse Ingrid

Well, I did know one guy who managed to fulfill the fantasy of attending one's own funeral. David was a bigtime AIDS activist and an old lefty politico, and one of the bravest and nicest human beings ever. When he knew he was going to die soon (this was circa 1989 or '90, before combination therapy was available) he told his friends, "Don't wait until I die to have the big party where you all talk about me!" So his friends rented the auditorium in the hospital where he was bedridden, and brought him down in a wheelchair, and essentially put on "This is Your Life" with a slideshow, old home movies, stories, and readings from his childhood diary. His biological family was there, and so were all of his friends and political allies.

I remember it as a happy occasion -- I can still picture David beaming from his wheelchair throughout the whole thing. He really was amazing. He died a couple of weeks later, and we had a nice quiet memorial in the park. He really inspired me -- I hope I can face death with that kind of dignity when it's my time. Of course, many of us don't have that kind of advance knowledge of when our time will be, but if by chance you do, might as well make the most of it!


I've always had this idea:

I saw a news article about a company which turns your remaining ashes into a jewel. So, I want to be turned into a hunk of a jewel and used as a paperweight. Seriously. I prefer ruby form.

Robert Madewell

Leon, maybe you're right. However, I can't bear the thought of my family thinking that I am roasting in heck for eternity. It really is about them. As far as being a christian in denial, I am not. I am pretty darn certain that xtianity is superstition. But what does it matter to me what my family thinks about atheism after I am gone? I have no hope that I will convince them while I am alive. I know that they will not deconvert. So, just a little lie to ease their pain seems justified to me. However, while I am alive they will know that I am an active strong atheist. Of course, I would like for my family to accept me for who I am, regardless of my beliefs (or lack of). If they would only accept it then maybe I wouldn't have to lie. Hmmmmmmm. I see I have alot to think about.


I want what Katherine Hepburn wanted. For people to stay home and think nice thoughts about me.


I'd quite like to be mulched and my fluid remains used as fertilizer. I certainly don't want some religious zealot taking over my funeral like that of my mother's. If possible I'd like a stand up comedian to deliver the service.

Alternatively I'd like the flesh stripped away and the remaining bones wired together. Then I'd like my skeleton dressed in my best suit and left in my arm chair at home. People can then treat me as if I were still alive if less argumentative than usual.

New Atheist

Greta, I love the way you think. I had always thought that I'd want to be cremated, but in light of Green House Gases and the damage we've already caused for our children, I love your idea of the green funeral. Please don't pump my body with weird substances and please take anything scientists need for studies or to give someone else a longer or more satisfying life. I'd like friends and family to remember the good things about me at some type of service, outside, somewhere beautiful, as I love nature. I hope the people that I loved while alive would be sad, but able to move on, knowing that I welcome this eternal rest! Life is such a crazy place, that I would hope for nothing but eternal sleep. Anyone that knows me knows that I would sleep my life away if I could.

Julie Shadlow

I was looking through entries and this particular blog intrigued me. My father passed about 3 and a half months ago and he was an athiest himself. Sadly, I can't say that he was truly given a real athiest funeral because my family is largely catholic. He died just before my 16th birthday, so you can imagine I didn't have much say in what happened. His mom insisted at first that we have it at the church he was baptized at. I put my foot down for that one. What a way to spit on your dead son, I mean really.
So I fought her for a week until we got the funeral moved to The Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. At the memorial we pretty much ate, drank...drank...and then gave speeches...drunk. It was more of a party than anything, I suppose that was due to the open bar though. But there was a lot of crying and remembering as well. It also turned into somewhat of a high school reunion, about 300 people showed up in all, half of which were his high school and college buddies.
My grandmother did talk about how we all needed to pray for him and such, but we all shook it off because she did lose her baby. She also made up little cards with prayers on them.
Other than that bit, it was pretty much religion free.
I think if my dad could have seen, he wouldn't be too disappointed.

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