a publication of the sexuality and aging consortium at widener university

The Last Intimate Thing

By Melanie Davis, PhD, CSE

I listened to a program recently about end-of-life choices — not about healthcare options but rather about the real end — the choices  for body disposition. Familiar only with traditional cremation and burial, I was surprised by the number of other options today — green burial (sans embalming, shroud instead of coffin), green cremation (better smokestack filters, no pine box); freeze drying, a process that turns the body into potassium-rich fertilizer, and a process that turns the body into growing medium for a tree seedling.

I realized that the choices we make about disposing of a loved one’s body are highly intimate. Well before the disposal decision is made, many others face us.  Will we give a last kiss? Will we sit or lie down next to our beloved’s body before it is taken away? Will we wash or dress or enshroud it? If those tasks are handled by others, will we carefully choose clothing we want to send along with our loved one’s body? Will we place on the body a piece of jewelry, a cherished possession, or a note?

As we write the obituary, will we shed tears trying to capture a life in 150 words? As we write a eulogy, will we edit the details to hone an impression we want to leave on listeners’ hearts?  The first time we slip between the bedsheets alone, will we wonder whether we will ever again share our bed with a lover?

In his poem Starting at Paumanok, Walt Whitman wrote:
And I will show that nothing can happen more beautiful than death,

Yes, death is beautiful in its own way, and it is most certainly intimate, if we who remain allow ourselves to feel while making the choices left for us to make.

This post was inspired by the song “Naked as We Came” by Sam Beam, who performs as Iron and Wine.  To watch the video of the song, click here.

One Response to “The Last Intimate Thing”

  1. Joan Price says:

    Part of loving at our age is, sadly, facing these questions. When my beloved Robert was close to the end of his life journey, he chose to make as many of these decisions as possible. It was both awful and wonderful to hear him expressing what he wanted (and didn’t want!) after he died. Then, afterwards, I didn’t have to have doubts about what decisions he’d want me to make. It was a great gift to me that he did that.

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