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  • Kristan Higgins

This mortal coil

Updated: May 6, 2022

I’ve been reading a lot of books about death lately. I don’t know why. I’ve always been a bit maudlin, which I think is part of my Hungarian-Catholic upbringing. We’re wary of being too happy, always waiting for God to notice and strike us down (see Book of Job).


Most on my mind these days is burial. I’m kind of against it for myself…it takes up too much land and feels so unnatural: embalmed in a casket with a cement-lined vault. I do like cemeteries, though, and especially old cemeteries. My good dog Luther and I recently took a walk through a really pretty one on the Cape and happened upon a cluster of gravestones for a Higgins family. My people, maybe, from generations ago. Luther was super excited in the cemetery; he has a bloodhound’s nose, and I had to stop him from digging more than once. I imagined being caught by the cemetery guard: “Oh, it’s nothing! My dog is just digging up one of my ancestors…it’s fine! Thanks!”


After listening to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, cremation holds a lot of appeal. I just don’t like the industrial part of that…if a crematory was prettier—like a Japanese Zen garden, for example—I’d be all in. But going to what looks like a Costco warehouse for my body’s final moments…nah. I’d rather go out on a pyre on a lake, you know? One of my future grandkids shooting a flaming arrow…wicked. I wonder if that’s legal.

jae rhim lee

There are other options I quite like—a black catsuit imbued with mushroom spores. You get buried looking super chic, and mushrooms break down your body, filtering out all the bad stuff. Eventually, you’re high-grade compost. McIrish could use me on the dahlias we both love. (Such a suit was invented by Jae Rhim Lee; I watched her TED talk and was enthralled. Enthralled, I tell you.) Luke Perry, one of my fiercest celebrity crushes, was buried in such a suit, so if it was good enough for Luke…I told my mom about these mushroom suits, and she screamed, then gagged. Not for everyone, I guess.


I’ve also heard that the human body can decompose in just six weeks if you bury it in woodchips. Again, so simple, so close to nature. But then I picture Luther trotting in from the field, something suspicious in his mouth. My survivors would be horrified, sitting there on the porch. “Luther!” Dearest Son would say as the Princess wept. “Drop Mommy’s leg! Drop it! Drop!” Luther would obey, but Willow would grab the extremity and race joyfully around the field, her barking muffled by my rotting leg. Hey. They’re dogs. They're disgusting and will eat anything, maybe especially a loved one..

I’m an organ donor, so best case scenario is that I go out a hero, saving numerous lives via transplant. In case that doesn’t happen, the next best thing would be to leave my body to science. I like thinking that I’d finally go to medical school, fulfilling that dream. But then I learned that I could just as easily be used in experiments, such as “Let’s see what will happen if we drop this cadaver off a cliff.” No, thanks. Even in a med school, I could be akin to the Barbie Styling Head for some plastic surgeon wannabe who used me to perfect an eye-lift. No, thanks. If I can be used to, say, educate the one who will cure cancer, I’m all in. I draw the line at my mortal remains being used to help make women feel insecure about aging.

Well, hopefully, I won’t die any time soon. But it never hurts to have a plan, just in case.


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