29 March 2012

The Eyes Have It

Going to a funeral is one of the easiest ways to get friends and family members talking about what they do and do not want to happen at their own funeral. Perhaps it's some element of keeping up with the Joneses or a general affinity for having an opinion about most anything — services we like we hope to emulate, services we dislike we tell our loved ones in hushed voices, "Don't you ever let them do that to me." 

When I was young, I'd been to more than half a dozen funerals before I made it to my first wedding. It wasn't that my family was morbid — they were just old. I don't remember much by way of specifics other than always thinking that I liked the fresh flower arrangements better than the fake flowers; that caskets seemed really big and heavy; that it was weird to be in a room with a bunch of crying people; and that the person being buried had on way too much makeup. It was the makeup that first clued me in to the fact that a body is not a person. A body is a vessel, a physical manifestation. We dearly miss the body, the physical manifestation of our loved ones when it has gone. After all, it is the sense of touch that brings calm — the resting of one's head on a familiar shoulder, the holding of hands, the intertwining of arms. Without being able to touch our loved ones we often become afraid and alone. However, when a life expires and a body is taken away, the person who lived in that body continues on as part of the indelible life force that makes up our world. While we can no longer hold their skin and bones and our hands, we may always hold their love and memory in our hearts. 

Given my health history, I have spent more time than most my age, and perhaps most in general, thinking about how I want my death and the disposal of my body to be. As a society, we shy away from discussing such things because we fear that doing so will bring on death, or we simply do not want to dwell on the fact that death will happen, or we have too little information about what making end of life plans truly involves. I am one who has accepted the fact that — while I have no intention of dying any time soon — death will at some point occur, so I'm going to have as much of a say in the matter as I'm allowed. I don't want to drag out the process for months on end costing my family much in the way of time, finances, and emotional turmoil. I don't want to carry on with a more or less intact body and a shattered mind. I don't want to be in pain. I do want to be an organ donor. My husband, on the other hand, does not — an opinion which, despite nearly six years of marriage, I have yet to change in him and consequently goad him about given an opportunity. Today, having attended a dear friend's grandfather's funeral, the conversation was once again set in motion. 

"You're a body hog," I said. "You won't give up your organs."

"That's because I'm USING them," my husband replied, rubbing his belly.

"I'm totally giving up your organs," I teased. 

"No you're not. That's not legal," he shot back.

"Oh yes it is! It is unless you put it in writing!" I retorted. 

"Well. Just for that I'm going to go watch TV," he said as he strolled out of the bedroom. 

Just a moment passed as he sat down on the living room couch, then called out at me, "I'm going to donate your EYES," he said with evil glee.

Though I have been an organ donor since age sixteen, my eyes are the one body part I have opted to retain. The desire stems from my having had an extensive reconstructive jaw surgery for TMJ when I was young. With my bones rearranged and my face swollen, I could hardly even recognize myself. Only by looking in the mirror and covering all of my face except my eyes could I see that I really was still in there, still myself. My husband knows this and was with me in the hospital when we filled out the paperwork for my advance directive and I chose to include this ocular mandate. 

"Screw you," I hissed, my voice not belying my smile. 

"I'm going to have them put in a jar and placed on the mantle," he cawed. "Or I'll just have them stare at your computer."

He knows me — body and soul. 

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"We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world." — Buddha

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