I don’t know about you, but this year my death anxiety crept up on me like a colony of ants that wriggles its way over an unassuming child’s arm sitting in a meadow.

Instead of dealing with it the way I usually do, which is by reading books on spirituality, I went straight for a comedic, factual, and rather unself-helpy take on what happens with our physical bodies once we die.

Mary Roach’s “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” presents a humorous overview of what is possible once we become cadavers. She first describes how dead bodies of the past have helped (oftentimes likely against their will) advance sciences. There are a few options available today still: We could perhaps choose to become decapitated heads, providing means for up-and-coming plastic surgeons to practice their craft. We could also become crash test dummies. If we want our final deeds to be super badass, we could help fight crime by letting could let forensics students study human decomposition on us.

And of course there’s always the more common alternative to donate our bodies to transplant patients.

The premise of Stiff might seem incredibly macabre, but Roach manages to help us recognize the honor and dignity these last acts of selflessness of (no-longer) human beings serve. In the end, we are not our bodies. We inhabit them temporarily only until we pass on.

If you’ve been grappling with the question of mortality lately, I encourage you to face it head-on. We are all walking that way already and we have no way of knowing when we will arrive. Sometimes it’s nice to have even a vague picture of the destination ahead. Meditate to practice the art of letting go. Read “Stiff” to have a dry sense of humor about it

Leave a Reply