With the recent release of a Japanese film, "Okuribito," that's been acknowledged by many countries (about an undertaker and his wife), many of my students and I have been discussing death, funerals, undertakers and burial customs lately.
My husband and I are not sentimental about our own deaths and have only the desire that no one go to any expense (beyond cremation costs) in dealing with the disposal of our dead bodies. I used to think if my friends wanted to gather to have a party celebrating my life, that'd be cool, but even that notion has gradually faded in recent years. In Japan ashes and bone fragments are given to the surviving family members, who store them in family graveyard plots. As we have no intention of participating in such a custom, we hope our son will scatter our ashes in the earth of a forest, or mountainside; as the saying goes: ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
My parents want to donate their bodies to science and have already made arrangements to that end. My middle brother is the family genealogist and has a very different view. He doesn't want to be cremated, but rather favors burial, believing in the importance of grave markers--as I understand it--leaving a tangible and traceable testimony of one's life for future generations.
I believe in leaving evidence of the impact of my life in the people around me; my students, my son, my friends, my church and my extended family.
Perhaps I feel this way because I take after my dad so much. I got his coloring, bone structure, ear for harmony and schnozz (nose). He passed on his addictions to me: cold soft drinks & ice cream, ratpacking, editing newsletters and handwriting letters. I was always Daddy's Girl and he was my hero, comrade, playmate and refuge from older brothers who picked on me. He influenced me musically, artistically, socially and professionally; his example in charity, community service, and international tolerance and understanding are the foundation blocks of my life in Japan.
I am my father's living tombstone. And some of you out there are mine.