With the passing of David Bowie, Lemmy Kilmister and my very good friend’s loss of his mother all happening recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about death. Not in the sombre, woe-is-me sense, but just in a sort of curious way. I’ve thought back to all the bleak funerals I’ve been to and realized they were all centred around god and an afterlife, rather than the very real life of the person we loved. It hit me, I’d never thought about death and funerals from a secular perspective. It’s scary to think I could leave this world, not having told anyone what I want, and end up having god invoked in my honour. Nothing would be more disrespectful to me, so I looked into some more secular end-of-life traditions.
Here are eight ways you can honour your secular views in death:
1. Donate your body to science.
Help scientists study things like anatomy, decay and surgery. By doing so, you’re helping science progress, and in turn, offering future generations a better understanding of the human body and medicine.
To donate your body to science, first, you should discuss it with your doctor and your family. Some bodies may not be accepted due to health issues, so your doctor may need to give you the go-ahead. Telling your family ensures that your wishes are what actually happens when you pass. They should be made aware that if your body is accepted as a donation, it cannot be present for any services they might hold in your honour.
You then need to find an appropriate program near you, obtain their registration forms, and fill them out. Here are just a few:
2. Donate your organs.
If you have healthy organs, donating them can give someone a second chance at life they may never have had otherwise. The very act celebrates the massive strides in medicine science has achieved… to be able to replace broken body parts with fully functioning ones is something humans are capable of. No god required.
All you need to do to become an organ donor is register with your local organ donor program. Here are some resources for organ donation around the world:
Canada: List of donor programs
Australia: Australian organ donor registry
3. Start a scholarship in your name.
In lieu of flowers, ask people wishing to send your family their condolences, to donate to the fund instead. This way, you can send someone to a secular post-secondary school who may not have had the chance to do so otherwise.
4. Leave your estate (or some money) to a secular humanist organization.
There are plenty of amazing organizations out there doing wonderful things without invoking god. Click here for information about Legacy Giving.
5. Request a humanist officiant for your services.
Ensure that any end-of-life services held in your honour do not include god or superstition by requiring the officiant to be secular. Find a humanist officiant in your area by contacting your national humanist association:
Canada: Humanist Canada
Australia: Council of Australian Humanist Societies
6. Call your end-of-life services a celebration of life.
As an atheist, you likely don’t believe in an afterlife. You don’t need anyone to pray for your soul or wish your sins away. You don’t need your family and friends worrying about whether or not you’re being burned in some sort of diabolical barbecue that never ends. Instead, have them celebrate you. What they knew of you, the good memories they shared with you and the impact you had on their life. Have the service focused on what was real, rather than what some outdated myth says happens next.
7. Request that your favourite secular passages be read at your services.
Here is my personal favourite, from Richard Dawkins:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred? – Richard Dawkins
8. Launch your ashes into space.
Get that much closer to being stardust once again, by launching some your remains into the endless expanses of space. Who knows where you might end up, or what you might become a part of one day? You can arrange to have your ashes launched into orbit, onto the moon’s surface or into deep space. Here is one such company that does it: Celestis.
Most of the funerals I have been to, have been Catholic, and each and every one of them have been anything but a celebration of the life that person lived. Instead, it’s a deeply depressing and morose gathering during which the attendees more or less beg a nonexistent deity to be kind to the departed. It’s absurd, disrespectful, dishonest and, well, gross. Your family should not have to begin their grieving process by making it worse. As a secular humanist, you have more reason than most to bring positivity, celebration and a sense of progress to your passing. You can be sure you’ll be doing just that by using some of these ideas.
Is there anything I missed? What else could you do to celebrate the life of an atheist? Let me know in the comments.