Saturday, November 15, 2008



Each of us will exit this world one day .........! This is known to each of us. Still, how many of us really get prepared for this and plan the way she/he would like to exit ? How many of us give it a deep thinking and decide upon the exact way we would like our last rites to be done and remains/memory to be preserved and exclaim, “ Yeah ! that’s the way to go to my afterlife .”

Well, the manner, place or time of exit is definitely not known to us in advance – but we do know the general pattern of “ last rites”, that our society has prescribed to be performed by our loved ones, ostensibly for the twin purpose of ensuring that our departed soul rests in peace and on the other hand, it helps the grief-stricken bear the loss in the company of so many others. I was just reflecting.. Do I really want it that way ? If I believe that my life, when I am alive, is/should be of my choice, then how come, so calmly, I surrender myself to the priests and brahmins and the social customs, when it comes to the way I go out? Is it just a simple logic that since I have no say over the way I come to this world, I can not have any say over what happens to me after I go out of this world . No, I do not buy this , Sorry !

Of course, one pertinent dimension of the issue could be that the last rites are actually meant not for the departed – but for the bereaved - for helping the near and dear ones come out of the grief of bereavement and facilitating restoration of normalcy by getting them busy with the thousand and one things to be done as per the religious/social customs. May be, at one stage of evolution of our society, this was relevant and required. But why should we follow that now when the frame and context have changed so widely without ever giving it a serious thinking ?

Let me clarify a bit more please. I have no intention of waging any battle against customs or rebelling. Fine, if you want your exit to be observed as per the age-old social customs – it is your choice and must be respected by your surviving family members. My only submission is : what prevents us from going a little out of box and thinking about creative, yet less burden-some, alternatives to traditional funerals for ourselves? Thinking something new about turning these tragedies into more intimate and fonder remembrances, without turning these into burdens on the very people we loved so much and did everything during our lifetime to give them joy and happiness ? Thinking a bit about ourselves too in the sense that we too would love to be remembered/memorialised in a particular preferred way ?

Only a few days back ( mourning is still on ), I have lost my brother to cancer at an early age. He was staying abroad and had such a brave and out-of-the-world positive spirit that he lived ( by every sense of the term) till his last. He never actually made us realise how much pain he must be going through !! Always caring for others and concerned about others – taking all the pains to make your visit memorable if you happened to have visited him, always smiling and going about life as if nothing is serious except that he has to be on medication and a different diet on a continuous basis . Early this year, I had lost my father. About a month back, I lost my mother-in-law. Both had lived their lives well and long enough. But this sudden ( we knew it would come anytime, but never expected so soon ) & premature passing away of my brother brought me so close to “death” [- or, is it simply a passage to another innings in the lifecycle ?] that I could not but pause... and reflect deeply on this moment called “death”, which eventually comes in everyone’s life ... a guest expected most certainly but never awaited with advance planning for welcome !!!

So...... I started seriously thinking about it ... and also have gone through whatever I could lay my hand( and eyes) upon for a bit of research. And I am amazed at my findings from different sources about the plethora of creative alternatives to traditional funerals, that some people( ahead of their time !) across the globe have already chosen for their exit fanfare and the numerous ways the family members have kept the memories of their departed loved ones. I would highly recommend that you read a book “ Exit Strategy- Thinking Out of Box” by Michelle Cromer. I had stumbled upon this amazingly different kind of book recently while sifting through heaps of second-hand books at Fountain area in Mumbai and had picked it up – attracted by its title. Now I know from this book that there are so many others who are serious about exercising own option in matters of last rites like me and not only that, have already tried out so many newer ways – turning this milestone in life to nothing less than a celebration as one enters one’s afterlife !! Undoubtedly, there are two unmatched milestones in each one’s life – one, when you are born and another when you die and both deserve special celebration .

How would you like to stay with your loved ones after death ?

Let me share some of the a-traditional ways in which your CREMAINS ( ashes/ remains after cremation of the body) can be preserved for intimate remembrance by your loved ones :

i. Get your ashes planted under beautiful rose-bushes in the family garden ( any flower plant that you love ) – and spread the heavenly fragrance in the air that your loved ones breathe .

ii. Get sifted into the roots of a tree – like a banyan tree, oak tree or maple tree and live for hundreds of years as a memorial tree, to which your loved ones can visit once in a while.

iii. Get your ashes mixed with Potter’s clay and turn into any decorative piece of pottery or clay animal/bird/object of your choice – which your loved ones can preserve as memento.

iv. Get yourself spread over any natural place you love – like sea, mountain, forest, river etc. – by having your ashes scattered aerially over the place.

v. Get your ashes blown into glass for handblown glasswork and turn into a marvellous commemorative piece of artwork in glass.

vi. Have your ashes packed into jewlry,musical instruments, fishing rods, golf clubs, artwork - for that matter, anything, any shape that can have some space to hold human ashes and can be sealed.

vii. Become a part of man-made memorial reefs in approved environmentally challenged sites in deep sea and help preservation of the environment.

viii. Have your ashes spread across the sky in a display of fireworks.

ix. Have your ashes packed into helium-filled ballons in bright colours with little notes ( like , Bye Dad , We love you etc. ) written on the surface of the balloon and and get it released from a very high-altitude( 26000 feet or so), scattering the ashes in the upper atmosphere.

x. Have a space odyssey by having your cremains shot into outer space with the help of a space craft.

xi. Have your ashes turn into a man-made DIAMOND, so that your loved ones can literally wear you on !

Well, memorial service organisations are there which even do cryonic suspension of your body or only the brain in hopes that eventually medical technology will be developed to revive /reanimate the person !!! Some others also go for mummyfication!!

Truly, the options for how we preserve our remains /memories are limited only by our imagination .

How would you like to have your exit fanfare

Now, coming to the manner of observing the last rites, I believe it is very important to give a serious thought to this right now, decide what exactly you want for yourself and do two things :
a. Clearly write out your wishes, sign and give copies to your family members ; or keep at a place where they are sure to find it after your death.

[ NOTE: Things like whether you would like to be cremated in a traditional manner or would like electric cremation ; whether you would like to have all the rites as per the socio-religious customs for 12 days or you would like it to be curtailed to say 2/3 days with simple puja karmas; whether you would like your daughters/female loved ones to perform the rites ; whether you would like to have elaborate functions for relatives and knowns and/or memorial services in the form of some charity work etc. should be clearly expressed in writing , so that your loved ones do not have to face embarrassment, if any, for deviating from established customs as per your last wishes .]

b. Get registered appropriately your wishes for donating useful parts of your body immediately after your death , if you so wish . Let your family members have copies of the papers necessary to execute this .

Personally, I am going to write out the way in which I would like my own farewel to be organised and keep it at a place where my husband and daughters can find it . That does not mean that I wish saying goodbye anytime soon – no way – not before I try out a few more things I am passionate about ! , Ha, ha !! ). But who knows ??

What about you ?


Daphne said...


I'm so sorry to hear about your brother's cancer and death, and your dad's death earlier this year. This was a beautiful post. I always thought I'd want my ashes scattered at sea because I love the water, and it frees my loved ones of any burden because there's nothing left to look after, like ashes. Still, the suggestion to turn my ashes into glass art or a man-made diamond sound interesting.

Again, you must be going through a hard time. After my dad died last year, I was ok most of the time but every now and then, totally out of my control, I would start crying as I was walking down the street or sitting on a bus.

My thoughts are with you.


Daphne said...

Hey Snigdha,

I've tagged you! Check out this post for details:

Snigdha said...

Hi Daphne, Thank u so much for sharing my grief - cann’t express how exactly I am feeling currently - losing one after another dear ones and bouncing back to normalcy so soon ?? Am I becoming emotionally blunt?? Or I am evolving the right way ?? A big question for myself to ponder over…

sambit said...

Actually I am also taking time off from my usual routine of going through the articles in web as I am feeling a bit listless. I felt very bad to know about the sad demise of your brother. My sincere condolences. When the previous generation leaves you, you take them as incidents for somewhere deep in your mind you always expected it to happen sometime. As it comes to your generation the impact is more deep as you have shared the space and time with them on equal terms exploring and exchanging your experiences. A part of you suddenly stops working, sort of paralysis. What's more it ushers in death to your ambit and you feel you are on notice. It makes you more aware of your own inevitable death.The thoughts of last rites are absolutely relevant. Thank God I don't want to be remembered. Does not matter what way it happens- to me. But I think one should have the freedom to choose it.

snigdha said...

You r right, Sambit - certainly, we r not yet prepared for saying bye to someone from our generation and that hurts a lot more,howsoever practical one may be.
And yes, I guess, most of us will not care about the way our physical remains would be preserved - personally, I also do not want my ashes to be preserved ( they may just spread it over the ocean).
But I am certainly very serious about the last rites - I won't like it to stretch for 13 days - no way ! Maximum 2 days; one day for disposal of body gracefully and another for comforting the dear ones, if required by them, through any manner they wish - some puja or charity( my preference is the later). And if at all my daughters would like to perform my last rites, no pundit must say NO just because they are not males. That is the reason, I will leave it in writing. Incidentally, it does not make a diff to me whosoever does whatever after i depart - excepting that i must earn enough love in my lifetime to stay immortal in the memories of my loved ones and friends. Just the way, I keep remembering my father & brother - all the good times we have shared !!