Saturday, March 10, 2012

Retirement Planning — Final Arrangements

My husband and I stumbled into a conversation about final arrangements at bedtime one recent night. “Are you awake?” he asked. This is a question I know should be answered with silence if I have any hope of falling asleep soon. One of the many things predictable about Jagdish is that bedtime is when he launches into his most convoluted discussions. Ones that compel me to try to unravel them, searching for some thin thread of logic, usually in vain.

On this particular night, I foolishly admitted to still being awake. He then informed me that the man who “takes care of” bodies donated to Brown University’s medical school stopped in his store that day. It seems he’s a fairly regular customer. Those who have met Jagdish will know that “regular customer” means someone who visits the “ashram” to ruminate, philosophize and discuss the most arcane topics.

Apparently they had a lengthy talk about how one donates one’s body. In my semi-stupor, I wasn’t clear on the impetus for their conversation. With Jagdish, one never knows how he gets from point A to point B in a discussion, never mind to points further down in the alphabet.

In any case, I was soon almost awake, trying to process the many details he was providing despite little encouragement from me. The first of these was that he wants his body donated to science. Another was that Brown won’t come get your body if you’re more than 45 miles away when you die. Also that the body has to be in Brown’s hands within a certain time of death.

We’re downsizing to Vermont, putting us out of range for a free pickup and quite likely beyond Brown’s “freshness window” as well. While Jagdish could donate his body to the University of Vermont medical school, Brown is his preferred recipient. Because he’s lived in Rhode Island since the early sixties, he considers it to be his home. This was clearly causing him some concern.

By now I was awake enough to sound as though I was thinking logically, but still groggy enough to be in one of my irreverently creative states. “Don’t worry, honey, “ said I. “If you croak in Vermont, I’ll prop you up and put you on a bus to Boston. They won’t know you’re gone until they arrive, so the death certificate will show that you’re within Brown’s zone and freshness requirements.” We both laughed. “You’ll be like Dustin Hoffman as “Ratso” Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy.”

Then I got worse. “I’ll get you a ticket on one of those Mega busses. That will save me lots of money.” The Megabus is what Jagdish takes to New York City on buying trips. The cost is about a fourth what the major lines charge. They’re available only between selected locations, but we’ve already determined that they travel from Burlington to Boston. Brown picks up stiffs in Boston, so that solves his problem.

I asked him what they’d do with his body when they’re done with it. He said he thought they would cremate it. I opined that there might not be much left to cremate, if they took him apart to study piece by piece. I told him about a recent exposé on the remains of some soldiers and 911 victims showing up in unthinkable places. “Maybe they’ll dump your leftover parts into a land fill. I can just picture one of your feet sticking out of a pile of rubbish…”

Jagdish was quite certain he would be cremated. I asked: “Will I have to take your ashes to India to scatter them in the Ganges?” He assured me I would not, so I considered this a real plus for Brown’s medical school. The next day I decided to do some research on exactly what is involved in donating one’s body to Brown. Turns out it’s not that simple.

In addition to the distance and time restrictions, the medical school can decline the donation if your remains “are deemed unsuitable for educational purposes.” That covers some pretty broad territory. Unless Jagdish and I really get on one another’s nerves after we relocate, we’re not likely to have evidence of “extensive trauma at the time of death,” so we should pass that hurdle.

On the other hand, “extreme obesity or malnutrition,” could be deal breakers. I’m bordering on the former and getting chubbier each year, not to mention the possibility of a liver marinated in fine wine. Jagdish’s recent blood work shows he’s anemic and just a few Mexican fast food meals away from being malnourished.

Oh yes, I can see it now. Brown turns away bodies of alumna and spouse. Neither was deemed “suitable.” Let’s hope Vermont’s medical school won’t be as picky.

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