Last week, a group of friends fell into a conversation about death, the afterlife, and reincarnation. One of the older women expressed her fear of dying. She said it was not so much because of her age, but rather, because she enjoys life so much! She is very active politically, socially, and so forth. She is definitely more active than I am.
One of the younger women tried to console her by stating that “We are all afraid to die.” Not only do I find this not consoling, it is also is not true. Perhaps, we are all afraid to die at some point in our lives. But we are NOT all afraid. For instance, in some religions, people look forward to death. They feel they have lived “good lives” and will be rewarded with a seat in Heaven. This is a beautiful theory and it gets them through the tough times in their lives.
I am not afraid to die. I used to be. But I am not now. When I was 2 years old, I learned what death is. I learned that a person can walk out the door at any time and never return. Age had nothing to do with this lesson. Death was a lesson of life. And as the years passed, this lesson took on new meaning. My fears dissolved. I will die. I know that. I am not afraid of that.
Recently, the question of what happens after death has taken on a life of its own. What happens when an expat dies in a foreign land?
Several years back, I began watching a U.S. television series called Six Feet Under. Besides being highly entertaining in a dark sort of way, the show was a real eye-opener. Although I always knew an American burial was expensive, SFU truly dramatized these expenses, the reasons why Americans embalm bodies, the arguments that ensue among family members, the sadness . . .
After watching that show, I decided I would be cremated. This was always against my personal beliefs. But now a proper American burial seemed so frivolous – such a waste of money. Through the years, I told my husband several times that I do not want to be buried. I want the cheapest method possible. No embalming. No open casket for a viewing. Cremation. Take my ashes out fishing on Marsh Creek. Let my family have a service without the body. Be done with it.
Last night I realized he wasn’t listening. As we briefly discussed the issue, I came to realize that he assumed he should send my body home to West Chester if he found himself in this situation. That’s not what I want. But it raises other questions. What do I really want? What do my husband and family want? What are the laws? What are the costs?
Last month, a Canadian by the name of Hans-Joachim Himmelsbach, died in here in Turkey. He was married to a Turkish woman and had homes in both Canada and Turkey. After obtaining permission from the municipality, his wife buried him in Bodrum. I understand it was a mixed Christian and Muslim service. About a week or so later, against the wishes of his wife, his body was exhumed and moved to a remote part of the cemetery. The reason? A well-to-do family in Bodrum did not want to pray at their family plot with a Christian lying in the next grave.
Himmelsbach was a Canadian Diplomat.
There are decisions to be made. What if I die here in Turkey? Do they even cremate bodies here? If so, it is likely not cheaper than a burial. Do I want to put my Turkish family through the frustration of where to bury a Christian? What if I die while visiting the German family? Or on vacation somewhere else?
It seems unlikely that my husband and I will lay side-by-side throughout eternity. But does that even matter?
In life we come across what seems like insurmountable frustrations. It looks like death will cause more frustration. I like the way Joe Diffie put it in one of cowboys’ greatest hits:
Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die
Lord, I wanna go to heaven but I don’t wanna go tonight
Fill my boots up with sand, put a stiff drink in my hand
Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die