June 19th, 2005

Dionysus

If I die before I wake ... or, for that matter, any time before you do.

I'm not being morbid. And the drugs are working just fine, I'm not suicidal in any way. But in a couple of weeks I'm going to be 45, and that's awfully old to be this poor and completely without health insurance. I'm not particularly worried about being a victim of crime, but any of a wide variety of accidents and/or health problems could take me at any time. They probably won't; I'm not healthy enough to die young. (True fact: Of all the men in the Hicks family, the only one to die before age 68 was the health nut among my paternal grand-uncles. Seven brothers, six of whom smoked like chimneys, ate anything that wasn't nailed down with thick fatty gravy on top, drank like fishes, and lived to a relative ripe old age; one of whom was a vegetarian, non-smoker, tea-totaller, and jogger, and he died in his early 40s of a sudden and massive heart attack.) No, the real reason I'm writing these final wishes is that in the wake of my outrage over the 18 years of abuse of Terry Schiavo's semi-animate corpse, some people are wondering what I want done with my corpse when I die ... and, should it come to that, before then.

In the Event of Severe Injury or Illness: No Heroic Measures. I've listed alienne as my emergency health contact on enough paperwork that they should take her word for it. If anybody from the Hicks/Heitzler/Broder family tries to take control of my medical care, corpse, or estate, contact probate court for St. Louis County, Missouri and obtain the final will of my last surviving parent, Mary Margaret Hicks (nee Small). I was disowned upon my last adopted parent's death; that family has no more legal claim over my property or body, because I am legally no longer a member of that family. That being said, let me also make my wishes clear here, for the record. If I am incapacitated and unable to give my own consent, no form of artificial life support is to be connected to me unless the prognosis is good that I will be able to live without it eventually. In the event of even the reasonable suspicion of brain death, wait no longer than the law requires, then yank any feeding tubes, hydration systems, and/or artificial respirators; if the brain is gone, I'm dead, and I don't want you wasting money and medical resources on my empty flesh.

Now, the more interesting part, because I have said on many, many occasions that there is nothing about the standard American funeral service that I don't find creepy, disgusting, and/or disrespectful to the dead. This raises the entirely legitimate question, "Well, Brad, what do you want done with your body?" I think in my old age, I may finally have gotten wiser on this subject than the Man of Concrete was. His written, witnessed, and notarized wishes said, "No funeral," period. (His wishes were disregarded, but that's a long and aggravating story that's neither here nor there.) If my own personal feelings were the only ones at stake, I'd just as soon you wrap my body in a garbage bag and send it to the landfill. But I'm not going to be that much of a hard case. I understand that a funeral is an essential part of getting over it, and you all should know by now that I think more people need to get over it (whatever their individual "it" is).

James Bradley Hicks's Wishes for the Handling of the Corpse and for the Funerary Service: Look, let's start with an important constraint. I'm dead broke already. Unless my manner of death involves a large and quick insurance settlement from somebody else's insurance, you all are going to be hard-pressed to pay for any kind of burial and/or funeral. There just isn't going to be any money to spend.

I choose cremation over embalming or any kind of intact casket burial. Get the cheapest deal you have time to get. Have the ashes stored in something flammable, disposable, inexpensive, and minimally dignified. Cheap, plain wood is fine; if you can find something in cardboard that will pass for wood and it's cheaper, all the better. If the cremation service includes a private viewing by my closest friends ... well, I think you're ghoulish to take them up on it, but fine; take my tux to the funeral home and have me burned in it. (Don't include the jewelry, obviously. They're going to have enough trouble with my mouthful of metal teeth.) Otherwise, don't even bother; just let them quietly and efficiently burn the naked corpse and be done with it. Don't waste time or money on my remains when I'm gone.

I don't know how many people will bother to show up at my memorial service. Given sufficient notice, it might run into the dozens, though, so try to get a good deal on a room rental with the cremation. Now, it is essential to the plan for the service that this room not be set up auditorium style. Put the box containing my remains, and maybe a couple of printed out pictures of me propped up, on a small table in the center of the room and arrange the chairs around it. For music, grab an MP3 boombox (heck, use mine) and burn a bunch of Tangerine Dream, something inoffensive and unobtrusive, set the music volume on low, and leave it on until after the service. I discourage the sending or bringing of flowers, but I won't deprive you of that comfort if flowers comfort you; just for the God's sake, the community's sake, your family's sake, and my sake keep the expense to a reasonable minimum. You may costume as you wish, since in my life I was a long time fan of costumers. If you don't costume, wear dress casual.

Once everybody is in, please have someone among my close friends rise, take the standard prayer posture, and do a simple invocation to Zeus Herkaios, the God of Friendship: "Zeus Herkaios, lord of friendship, father of gods and men, may this act of friendship and remembrance find favor in your sight." Any volunteer will do. They should then explain that there will be no eulogy per se, that it was my wish that everybody in the room, going clockwise from the person who gave the invocation, say something about me. If you're just there to support someone you love and you didn't personally know me well, it's entirely appropriate to say, "I didn't know Brad well, but I know that he meant a lot to (name of the person you're there with)." None of the remarks have to be very long; try to make long stories short. Nor do they have to all be flattering; I won't haunt you for telling the truth as you see it. If you think other people would be offended at your truth-telling, preface your remarks by telling them that I said to tell the truth about me as you see it, that lying and flattering me would offend my memory more than honest truth-telling. But what I'd really like is for each of you to do one of two things. Either tell a brief story about me, one that illustrates how you think of me. Or if you want to be even briefer, pick one virtue or flaw of mine and name it.

Please, everyone speak, as if this were a shiv'ah. (But for the God's sake, don't drag it out for seven days!) It's OK with me if you cry. (For that matter, it's OK with me if you laugh.) It's OK with me if you feel a need to get up and go to someone who's crying and comfort them; I won't stand on formality. But quietly encourage people to keep the wailing and the grief to "what is customary," in the immortal words of Solon. When everybody has had their say, a second volunteer should rise, and thank everyone for coming and for sharing. Then assume the invocation posture, and pray something like as follows: "Hermes Psychopompos, swift son of Zeus, guide of all the dead. If ever anything this man, James Bradley Hicks, has done has found favor in the eyes of the blessed gods who live forever, then we pray that you guide this man swiftly to the shores of the land of the dead. There, guide him past the waters of forgetfulness to the waters of remembrance, and as swiftly as is lawful to a happier place than Hades' dark realm. And if this memorial service has found favor in the eyes of any of the blessed god, please remember us at the hour of our own deaths."

Then get the hell out of there. Pick somebody's house who volunteers and have a pot-luck, or if nobody volunteers then pick some bar with a happy hour buffet, and gather "Brad's friends and their invited guests," as I used to say. Make sure everybody eats; some of them will make themselves sick if you don't. It's certainly OK with me if one or more of you bring bottles, or if it's held in a public place by all means avail yourselves of the bar. But again, moderation in all things is the way that finds favor in the eyes of the gods, and would find favor in my eyes if I'm in any condition to be aware of it; don't make yourself stupid or sick. If it is a potluck, it is certainly OK with me if those of you who are Hellenic offer that food to Dionysus in my name. But there will be Christian guests there, and even though their Bible leaves the eating of food offered to "idols" as a matter of personal conscience, don't be rude and confrontational about it, but be discrete. What the gods and their worshipers see in private will, as the Christian savior once pointed out, be rewarded openly. And for your love of the Gods and mine, I flatly forbid you from spending any money of your own on this that would imperil your ability to support yourself, your family, or your community. Whether you have a fancy funeral for me or not, you will eventually get over me and my death. The living, on the other hand, can't wait; care for them first.

Final Disposal of the Remains: It's futile to try to preserve a corpse against the ravages of time, so don't even try. Besides, the idea of some kind of shrine to me seems creepy. Here's what I would prefer, if it can be arranged. The next one of my friends to go up to Lothlorien Nature Sanctuary (south of Bloomington, Indiana), please take my remains with them. Explain that it was my wish that my ashes be added to the compost pile, and used to fertilize the land; the container should go to the main bonfire. If the elders up at Lothlorien turn this down, contact Bernadette and family at Wolvenwold. Failing that, use your imagination, but it is the spirit of my wish that I want the remains of the body used to fertilize a semi-public place and the temporary container for the ashes destroyed.

Disposition of Literary Rights: This journal, any draft writing on my hard disk that isn't under contract, and anything that I have written that isn't encumbered by contract, I wish to place in the Creative Commons upon my death. (If someone can get a good, cheap deal on the printing and has time to edit and prepare something, I think it would be lovely if the people who showed up at my memorial service were given a printed copy of a selection of my essays.) It is likely to be the only asset I leave behind, but it's not worth much and it's not as if I have dependents. In the profoundly unlikely event that the value of my estate ends up exceeding my outstanding debts plus the cost of burial, turn the rest of the cash over the ACLU.

Postscript: Should anybody be so fucking tasteless and disrespectful of my religious beliefs as to rise at my funeral, memorial service, or party thereafter and preach a Christian salvation sermon over my ashes, stop them as quickly as possible. Make no effort to be polite. Do not hesitate to use violence. Long before I died I was sick and fucking tired of Christians taking over the funerals of Pagans and New Agers.