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After I am Dead

walking by graveyard

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected. 

As soon as Christian Fundamentalists read this headline they will shout at their screen:

  • You will be burning in Hell!
  • You will know there is a God!
  • You will know I was right!

They will see my death as vindication of their belief system. I wonder how many of them will say to themselves, I bet Bruce wishes he had listened to me! I can hear a Calvinist saying, now we know Bruce was not one of the elect! They will speak of the preacher-turned-atheist who now knows the TRUTH. (Please see Christopher Hitchens is in Hell.)

If they bother to read beyond the title of this post, they will see that this post is not about my e-t-e-r-n-a-l destiny. I have no concerns over God, judgment, or Hell. I am confident that Hell is the creation of religious leaders who want to control people through fear. Fear God! Fear Judgment! Fear Hell! Since Christianity and the Bible no longer have any power over me, I no longer fear God or Hell. I am reasonably certain that this is the only life I will ever have, and once I die, I will be . . . drum roll please, d-e-a-d.

The recent Coronavirus pandemic and the lethal nature of COVID-19 — especially for senior adults with health problems — certainly has refocused my attention on death. Not only my own death, but that of my wife, children, grandchildren, in-laws, and siblings. I can’t help but think about my editor, Carolyn. She’s older than I, and I wonder what I will do if Loki calls her home? 🙂 Who will clean up my writing? And I could say the same thing about other friends of mine. I genuinely want them to live long lives. At the very least, I want them to outlive me. 🙂 I hate funerals.

Here’s what I want to happen after I draw my last breath.

First, I do not want a funeral service. Waste of time, effort, and money. No need for fake friends or distant family members to show up and weep fake tears. No need for flowers. I want Polly to spend as little as possible on disposing of my dead carcass. Trust me, I won’t care.

plus size cremation

Second, I want to be cremated. No special urn. A cardboard box will work just fine. If Polly wants to show her love for me, a Hostess cupcake box would be sweet.  As I jokingly told my children, when I am cremated I will go from ass to ashes. None of them disagreed with this assessment. 

Third, I want my ashes to be spread along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Polly knows the place. I hope my children, daughters-in-law, son-in-law, grandchildren, and close family will be there. Maybe my newly discovered step-brother will be there. I want no prayers uttered and as few tears as possible. Perhaps those who are gathered will share a funny story, one of their many Butch/Bruce/Dad/Grandpa stories. I hope they will remember me for the good I have done, and forgive me for those moments when I was less than I could or should have been.

And that’s it.

Life is not about dying, it’s about living. Since I am on the short side of life, I dare not waste the time I have left. When death comes, the battery in my life clock will be depleted. Much like the Big Ben clock beside our bed — the one I listen to late at night as it clicks off the seconds — I know there is coming a day when I will hear CLICK and that will be it.

How about you? As an atheist or non-Christian, what do you want to happen after you die? Have you made funeral plans? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    I want my body to be cremated and the ashes scattered in a subduction zone; that is a place where one of the earth’s giant plates slides under another plate. There is one off the coast of the northwestern U.S. Once deep under the earth, the water in the very wet downgoing plate rises and wets the rock in the upper plate. Wet rock, under pressure, melts, and magma is formed. Magma feeds volcanoes, like the majestic Cascades that stretch from northern California north to southern Canada. Some of the subducted (downgoing) material gets caught up in the volcanoes as well.

    In short, I want to come back as part of a volcano in a few million years.

    But I know, over the course of billions of years, that stars will form and die and the debris left in their wake might well coagulate and form new planets. Maybe even new stars! So, for really long-term thinking, we are all truly star stuff and to star stuff we shall return. Even me. Even you. Even the folks that plan to be in heaven. We’ll all get there eventually! Just not like the holy books tell it. 🙂

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    I would like to be turned into a gemstone. There’s a company that does it, Lifegem I think. That way, after I am gone I will always be with my family- as morbid but nice jewelry.

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    I’m with you on the idea of the cheaper the better.
    I want people to know I did my best to be a decent person and that I spent time trying to build people up, not tear them down.
    I want people to be sorry I’m gone, but not to sorry to tell funny stories about me and not so sorry they can’t continue on with their lives.

    One thing really bothers me, though. My husband asked me to promise him when we were teens that I would let him die first. If I can, I will. I’d prefer for us to both go together, though.

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    I mentioned at a family gathering that I want to be cremated and my Indy Fundy father said “well you’d better hope you die after me because I will NOT have you cremated”. So not surprising that he wouldn’t honor my wishes. As a Christian his wishes count more than mine, huh? The only way I would not want to be cremated would be if my daughter were still a child and she asked that I be buried instead. I wouldn’t want her further traumatized if it would make her feel bad at the thought of her mama burning.

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    A well-fed fire from pine-beetle killed coniferous of the surrounding Crown Land, preferably just off in the field under the way-magnificent hills of B.C. Ashes are good food for the earth… please, no woo-woo talk. Maybe some Neruda and a few Annie Lennox songs for the deer and coyotes but people who are inclined to be there can do as they please; I promise not to protest!

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    August Rode

    With respect, Bruce, but the funeral isn’t for you. It’s *about* you but it isn’t *for* you. It’s for those who survive you and if they feel the need to gather socially to share their memories of you, you ought not begrudge that. I feel much like you seem to, that funerals are a waste of resources, but I wouldn’t suggest that everyone who knows/knew me out to feel the same way.

      • Avatar

        I recently went to a memorial service for a long time activist in our area. He was an early organizer for several freethought groups. It was most appropriate as it was a serious memorial about him and one where people could share stories. Like many of us, he had his obsessions, one of which was automobiles and Mercedes-Benz in specific. One guy mentioned he liked sitting next to Bob, the deceased, at the lunches as all he had to do was ask a question and he could finish his meal while Bob talked on about his cars.

        Memorial services are great ways to celebrate a life.


  7. Avatar

    I want the simplest cremation possible, with my ashes either spread in my garden (if that’s legal and my husband keeps the house) or scattered along the Oregon Coast north of Cannon Beach.

    If my friends and family want to have a party, that’s fine, but I don’t want any money spent. Just go pot-luck, and hang out together.

    If someone wants to spend money for some obscure reason, The Arthritis Foundation or Save The Children or a local food bank make much more sense than a “floral tribute.”

  8. Avatar

    I want to be cremated as well, and my ashes scattered in the backyard of my childhood home (or if that’s not possible, the woods near the house will do.) Please no flowers…give the money that would have been spent on flowers to the local Food Bank instead. And I could do without a funeral as well; every funeral I have attended has been terrible. Not terrible in the sense of sadness, but terrible in the way the church performed it. I still cringe remembering my aunt’s funeral, when the minister kept calling her “Cathy” (her name was Carol.) I’d much rather my friends and family gather at a local Irish pub that I frequent (or some other such place) and tell stories about me, and drink a few toasts.

    On a related note, I have a friend who is of Norwegian descent and a practicing Heathen (worships the Norse gods) and when he dies he wants a full-on Viking funeral, complete with a funeral pyre. I don’t know if that’s even legal in the U.S., but I’d love to see it!

  9. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Mine was the first comment on this thread, but I’ll add an anecdote.

    In 2002, one of my co-workers (actually a mentor) died after a long battle with cancer. Richard was an atheist, and his wife was a Wiccan. There was no funeral, but a couple of months after he died his wife organized a memorial service. The center of the hall was dominated by a table with photos of Richard at various points in his life, and the “service” consisted of people going up to the microphone and sharing bits and pieces of his life from their perspectives.

    It was the only memorial service I have ever attended that I really liked, and I came away with a new appreciation for my friend.

  10. Avatar

    Give me a Viking funeral and throw a party because really we never die. Eventually the earth will be destroyed and so will every thing else but from that eventually everything will be devoured by a black hole and a new universe will eventually be born and Life will eventually exist again and even though I might not be aware of it, I will become a part of everything and everyone at least in a sense, and I will be a part of everyone and everything that I ever loved. Christians with their heaven and their hell could not come up with something so beautiful.

  11. Avatar
    Tom Whitten

    Cremated, buried next to my grandfather in Keene New Hampshire. My birthday is June 21…around that weekend, have a yearly nice picnic with family and friends to remember me. Have the picnic by a lake, the ocean where ever, and make sure there’s frisbees, wiffle ball, hot dogs, burgers, iced cream, laughter of kids now and from new kids coming. Anyone crying sad tears gets tossed of the dock.

  12. Avatar

    Donating my corpse to science would be my best available option. The most appealing would be to be put in the truck they put dead farm animals in to be rendered into pet food. Not sure why being reincarnated into a can of fancy feast puts a smile on my face, I’m sure Fluffy wouldn’t ​mind.
    I don’t want a funeral, just a keg and good food (ei not horrible cold cut sammiches on cheap buns) for my loved ones, to blow smoke up my dead ass over, and the left over money to be used for a vacation of some sort for my loved ones

  13. Avatar
    Tim McGaha

    Funerals, memorials, and the rest are for the survivors, not for the deceased. I expect my survivors to do whatever they find comforting. Beyond that, I don’t care much; I’ll be elsewhere.

    I only have one request: No slow, somber music. And I want the last song to be one of Sousa’s marches: “The Thunderer.”

    • Avatar
      Becky Wiren

      That is so cool, Tim! Now I’m going to have to think of something for my funeral. I haven’t thought about it much, but at 58 maybe it’s time, hmm?

      I’m no longer a Christian, at least by my definition. And I hope that there is something after, but I’m pretty positive it isn’t the Christian heaven or hell. And who would want to go to the Christian heaven?

      Here’s a really cute depiction of life after death, albeit not any kind of theology etc.

      • Avatar

        I often wonder if, after we die, at some point what we call consciousness reforms itself, obviously without any memories of this existence. Maybe it happens quickly, maybe slowly, maybe in another universe, maybe as some different entity. Perhaps it’s happened to us many times already.

        It’s not something I can ever test, or investigate in any way, and it’s not something I intend turning into a cult. It has no bearing on ideas of reincarnation, which invariably involve some sort of belief system. For me it’s just a regular passing thought.

        • Avatar

          The habit of being is hard to shake. To go from a work-week, weekend life into retirement is more than many of us can handle well, so is it any wonder that the change involved in mortality brings many a feeling/thought? It’s a lot of maybe this and maybe that but one thing is for sure: Now IS… no, wait, it’s gone again.
          I don’t think consciousness reforms. I suspect it deforms rather abruptly: From the earth and back to it.
          Ring around the rosy… We all fall down.

          • Avatar

            Brian, you said

            “I don’t think consciousness reforms. I suspect it deforms rather abruptly: From the earth and back to it.”

            I don’t think it’s possible to have an opinion on it. I ponder it, and wonder about it, but can have no way whatsoever of forming an opinion about it. To form an opinion would be to stray into the irrational, akin to religious belief.

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          Geoff, you might want to be a tad bit slower in dismissing things that seem irrational. After all, irrational numbers are indeed a reality and one that enables most of our modern lives. Irrational should not always mean useless, just that we need to handle those things differently. Skepticism should be a significant part of it, but not the whole of it, in my opinion at least. Many of the things we most value as humans are irrational, love being the primary example.

          • Avatar

            Hi anotherami. I take your points but I think there’s a difference between irrationality in ‘our’ world, and a vague idea that might be interesting to think about, but which cannot be tested in any way. Just looking at your examples, irrational numbers in mathematics is just a term given to numbers that can’t be exactly specified, and, whilst love may often be irrational, it can be studied and explained through our understanding of human psychology.

            But these are interesting conversations.

          • Avatar

            I wholeheartedly agree that it is interesting, to say the least. Neurobiology can even identify specific hormones and chemicals involved in love, but I find such explanations fall short in light of the complexity of human relationships and raise as many ethical questions as they answer. Not only in the ethics of the scientific discovery itself, but in the application/use of it. If neurobiology can create a ‘love potion’ that might actually work, is it ethical to actually do the required research and testing, since involves manipulating such a basic human need/desire without any concrete idea of the results? If such a potion were to be created, what would be the ethics surrounding its use?

            I think a fair part of the appeal of fundamentalism of all stripes, particularly among the Abrahamic religions. is that it provides clear, simple answers to these kinds of questions, while there is little secular leadership providing alternatives or even the voices of those with more tolerant religious views being heard. And while debating these ideas is indeed interesting, society is changing at a rate humans as whole struggle to keep up with. We must simplify at least some things or go at least a bit daffy. Plus a fair portion of any population is simply not going to have the desire/capacity to understand deeper issues. In fact, we are far down the road of “too much education” itself being the enemy or at least suspect rather than respected, as was the case when most modern democracies were founded.

            We have seen what the toxic mix of fundamentalism and nationalism can do to democracy- the evidence sits in the White House. Add in a distrust of higher education and democracy becomes the rule of the mob in short order.

            Many have mentioned Orwell’s “1984” and Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” as representing what we may be on the brink of. While I don’t disagree, I fear it may be closer to Miller’s “A Canticle for Leibowitz”. It would not be the first time civilization has failed.

  14. Avatar

    Geoff, yes forming an opinion on what is unknowable is tricky business and could lead to feelings of certainty, a cul de sac.
    anotherami, I was thinking about civilizations and their seemingly natural cycles that bring failure. I really loved Animal Farm, partly because it was so clear in intent (revealing the politics of ta time) but also because it struck me as real, as about real children, familiar to me.

  15. Avatar

    I actually have a mental vision of my memorial service…and I’m the host. I would like to MC it (via prerecorded video). In my own words, I’d say good bye to everyone assembled. I’d publicly acknowledge my daughter, family and friends who I was fortunate enough to spend my time on this planet with. I’d introduce certain people to speak. Of course, I’d need a videographer to film it and edit it to my liking.

    Another funny thing I envision is a video monitor at the entrance of the venue that is playing a looped video of me (from the shoulders up) watching people coming in and saying things like “Thanks for coming”, “You look great today”, “You didn’t have to dress up that nicely for this”, etc.

    As people have said on this thread, memorial services are for the ones left behind. I want my friends to tell stories about me to my daughter and family, and I want my family to tell stories about me to my friends. My family do not know my friends and my friends do not know my family. I have a very social life in the music field. This would be the time they can share stories about me and help lessen the sadness that inevitably will happen. They can “minister” to each other.

  16. Avatar
    dale m

    My personal belief is that there is no afterlife but that there is a continuation of this one (so to speak). In short, I believe we simply wake up in the future ( a belief that science will open up the Age of Time Travel is quite strong in my worldview.

    Now, how to dispose of that body ….

    I think it would be neat to be cremated, put in an urn and placed in a small cemetery in the small town I grew up in. But I would have a 3-D laser holographic image of myself appear every time someone stepped on my “grave”. “I’m glad U came 2 C me today. I am listening. What’s on your mind?” I would sit there for 5 minutes after which “U need 2 take inspiration in the fact that I am in the future and looking back on U. I hear U. Take care. Do what U must. Then meet me in the future”. Fade to black.

  17. Avatar

    same here, told hubby and kids not to waste money on dead me. cremate at cheapest rate possible, no urn etc. not to trouble themselves w/the ashes. have crematorium dispose or throw away the box. i won’t care either. never understood the need for over the top funerals. thanks for expressing what so many of us feel. i have been dressed down and told i am wrong for feeling this way by christians over the years.

  18. Avatar

    My parents were cremated, I have itty bitty urns of both of them, the bulk of the ashes were put in a salt urn and dropped in the intercostal in the Florida Keys, in my imagination they’re eternally sailing a ghost boat and having a grand old time!

    After I am gone I want any useful parts donated to save or improve the lives of others. If that’s not possible I want to be donated to science, when anything useful has been gleaned, burn the rest. Then plant a tree and put a plaque under it. I don’t care about funerals, they’re for the living.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      What Autumn said.
      My parents were put deep in the ground in caskets inserted into concrete boxes made from high tensile concrete mix. It was weird to see it, to observe the process. Why on earth… For me, donate what Science wants for research and have a fire on the farm with the rest.

  19. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Oh, and you can read some Neruda and play some Annie Lennox if you please…. or just enjoy the silence and knowledge that I finally listened to you and shut-up! 😉

  20. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I was about 11 or 12 years old, I heard about “donating your body to science.” I looked it up in the local library. Ever since, it has seemed like the only logical and ethical thing, besides organ donation, to do with my corpse.

    A couple of years ago, I wrote a directive stating that I want my body shipped to the nearest facility that can use it. That way, if I die somewhere far away from home (wherever that is), loads of time and money won’t be spent on transporting it.

    Beyond that, I don’t care what happens. I don’t want a funeral; if people want to gather to memorialize me, that is their prerogative.

  21. Avatar

    this showed up on the “Humans of New York” instagram page, and I thought it was interesting and thought provoking and apropos of this thread:

    “So by the time we discovered the cancer, it had already spread to his lungs. We were arrogant at first. We thought we could beat anything. But it was only a matter of time.

    A few weeks before his death, we were hanging out, smoking hash, and talking about what to do with his ashes. Suddenly Wayne picked up the vial of hash, looked at it closely, and told us he had an idea. It took a lot to get that man down. Wayne wanted to live until his 54th birthday, and that’s exactly when he died.

    You can’t grieve for a man like that, so we threw him a ‘fun’eral. We had bluegrass music and two bushels of Chesapeake Bay crabs.

    And as a parting gift, every attendee received a vial of Wayne’s ashes. There were hundreds of them. We only requested that each recipient share where their vial ended up. Mine got mixed into some ink and tattooed on my finger. The other vials have gone all around the world: seven continents, so many bodies of water, the Wailing Wall, the Great Barrier Reef. Wayne’s in two different volcanoes. A sarcophagus in the Louvre. He’s even in the evidence room of a Georgia prison, because one of our friends got arrested with Wayne in his pocket. Wayne would have loved that. That’s such a Wayne place to end up. You could never contain him. Not when he was alive. Not when he was dead.”#quarantinestories”

  22. Avatar

    i have a special relationship with death, because when i was younger, i experienced a “NDE” or “Near Death Experience”, when my brain exploded from the inside, due to a ruptured arteriovenous malformation. i was in the hospital for a month, and have, basically, spent the rest of my “alive time” since then, recovering. when i regained “normal” consciousness, my first understandable sentence was “why didn’t you let me die?” ever since then i have had an ambivalent regard for death: when it happens, there’s nothing i can do to change it, so why bother. i feel very much the same way that Aleister Crowley did, when he said “I can imagine myself on my death-bed, spent utterly with lust to touch the next world, like a boy asking for his first kiss from a woman.”

    • Avatar


      Would love for you to post more about your NDE. Opinions about NDEs (as well as past lives) run the gamut from a materialist explanation (oxygen depletion or reactions to medications), all the way to esoteric mysticism (the soul leaving the body).

      While many of these events can be dismissed for material reasons, others are more difficult to brush off. Like blind-from-birth patients who are able to describe their surgeries in minute detail. Something APPEARS to be going on there, and while there’s no way at present to know for sure, it makes one wonder if something is on the other side when we pass.

      Leaving religious dogmatism behind, is it possible that our consciousness may simply be a yet-to-be discovered science, just as radio waves once were? Difficult to know for sure, but the possibilities are intriguing.

  23. Avatar

    Bruce, it’s eight and a half years after you wrote “After I am Dead” and we both persist, for better or worse. Gene Autrey commented late in life had he known he’d live so long he would have taken better care of himself. Me too. Your words reminded me of my Father (the Catholic church hater from an extremist Catholic Father) regarding expectations after his death. He expected nothing and no afterlife. He wanted no funeral. He never mentioned cremation. He did say when he died we could drag him out and let the hogs eat him. We didn’t do that. My Sister saw him get a Catholic funeral, his first time in church in decades and he was buried beside my Mother in ( I think it’s called) consecrated ground, Blakeslee Catholic cemetery. I can’t imagine a less likely person interred in “holy” ground.

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