The Ultimate Gift

**Time for this post?  Reading…10 minutes. Thinking time…none to lots.

There are only a few ways for your survivors to deal with your body when you’ve left it. A body can be kept intact and buried. It can be disintegrated—by fire or by alkaline water (the latter permitted in only some jurisdictions at this time). And…

There is a third way—donation to medical education.

I had never thought of doing this until last summer when I began researching conscious dying. Two things I learned from widely different sources came together and, suddenly, body donation seemed like a possibility.

In her TEDx talk, Rochelle Martin gave us four action steps. The last one was to choose in death what we value in life. That hovered in the back of my mind…

Then I was reading about body donation and learned that it’s a widely held myth that donated bodies are used for research and therefore must somehow be medically unique. Truth is, cadavers are used primarily for education—a practical way that medical students can learn how the body works and practice surgical techniques before being faced with a real live patient.

This knowledge, coupled with the fact that I’ve always valued practical education, got me looking further to see what’s involved in body donation and if I would qualify.

Exploring the possibility…

I figured my best bet for finding information was at a local university with a medical school. The University of Calgary website does indeed have all the information I needed to assess whether body donation is for me.

Then, for purposes of more general research on the topic, I searched five other Canadian universities to get a sense of the similarities and differences in body donation programs across the country.

What I learned…

“Body Donation Program” is the usual term, but both the University of Alberta and Newfoundland’s Memorial University refer to theirs as the Anatomical Gifts Program, and the University of Western Ontario calls it a Body Bequeathal Program,

They all deal with bodies from a limited geographic area because of the urgency for transferring bodies quickly, usually within 48 to 72 hours. Bodies for donation must not be embalmed.

Programs typically cover the cost of body transportation to their facility if it is within their prescribed area, and they deal with the body when it has served its purpose. At the University of Western Ontario,

Body bequeathal is the donation of one’s whole body after death. …the entire body is used for study and once the learning is complete, the cremated remains are returned to the family or interred by Western University in London, Ontario.

Respect and appreciation for the gift…

They all emphasize respect and value for bodies that are donated. This statement from the University of Alberta Anatomical Gifts Program is typical:

Anatomical gifts are used for teaching courses in human anatomy to medical, dental and allied health professional students. The course helps to familiarize students with anatomical relationships in the body that are essential for understanding the progression and treatment of human diseases.

Anatomical donations are regarded by the medical community as precious gifts to medical education. Donors and their families can be assured their contribution is greatly appreciated by both students and faculty. All anatomical donations are treated with utmost respect.

And the donor’s identity is not revealed, as the program brochure from McGill University explains:

Body donation is an anonymous gesture. Personal identification of the body is used by and accessible to only the Director and Administrator of the Body Donor Program. Researchers, technicians, and students working with the bodies do not have access to identification information.

Donation parameters…

None of the universities will accept bodies which have had organs removed. The University of Calgary says:

Our program strongly supports all individuals who chose to donate their organs, and we encourage all those interested to register for both programs. At the time of death the acceptance decision will be made by each program based on eligibility criteria. The removal of internal organs and tissues (excluding cornea & sclera from the eyes) makes your body unsuitable for our educational needs.

Even if they have accepted a signed statement of intent to donate, all programs reserve the right to make a final determination about the suitability of a body depending on its condition at time of death. The following list of exclusions from the University of British Columbia is similar to most. They will not take a body with:

– Infectious diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B or C)

– Severe antibiotic resistant infections (e.g. MRSA, VRE)

– Obesity

– Extensive bodily trauma/open wounds/recent surgery

– Suicide or traumatic death

– Autopsy or Coroner’s case

– Delay in notification of death

– Most organ donations (except corneal transplant)

– Other conditions at the discretion of the body program

Spoiler alert: This means you must have a Plan B for body disposition.

Exploring body donation for yourself…

As you can see, general principles are the same but details will differ between institutions. If you’re considering body donation, here are some guidelines for checking it out.

  1. Do a web search for the closest university that has a medical school, Insert your university name in the blank:   _________________ body donation.
  2. Read through their information pages. Pay particular attention to eligibility requirements such as minimum age and body size.
  3. If you meet these criteria, look for details about their application process—application form, consent form, family notification form, etc.
  4. If you decide to go ahead, discuss your intention with your family. Some universities will not take the donation if your family contests it, even if you had filled out the form.
  5. Complete the appropriate forms and submit them as directed. Remember that you can rescind this bequest at any time.
  6. Investigate alternative body disposal arrangements in case the condition of your body at death makes it unsuitable for donation. In that case, your family is responsible for body disposition.
  7. Put all your actions and decisions in writing and give them to your next of kin and the executor of your will. Several of the universities recommend that you also advise your family doctor that to you have made arrangements for body donation.

Disposition of our body is a personal decision for each of us. We all have deep-seated reasons why one method or another is unappealing or downright repulsive. There is no right and wrong here. The point is that we need to be aware of the options so we can choose what suits us best given what’s available where we live. It’s an important step toward dying in peace.

Gifting from Your Treasures

**Time for this post?  Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…2 minutes. Unearthing your treasures…up to you.

In 1994, Stephen Covey co-authored First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy. There are many concepts in that book that informed my thinking, but it was the subtitle that really stuck with me. Here’s how he explained it:

There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.”

The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economic well-being, health.

The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved.

The need to learn is our mental need to develop and to grow.

And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.

For an expanded description, go here. Or you might enjoy this two-minute visual experience.

To leave a legacy…

I was about forty-eight when I read First Things First. I didn’t really understand the legacy part. Now, twenty-four years later, I get it. I’ve reached the stage of life when leaving a legacy becomes the focus. When the horizon seems near, we think about leaving a mark, about being remembered when we are gone.

Often we think of a person’s legacy as a large body of work that keeps them in our awareness long after their death. Think of Wayne Dyer, Elvis Presley, Jane Austen. But being remembered is not reserved just for famous people. We all live in association with others, and the connections we foster in our daily lives become a significant part of our legacy.

A legacy of experiences…

My dear friend Norma was a dietitian and professional home economist, passionate about her profession and her family. When Norma’s granddaughter Katie spoke at her memorial service, it was clear that cooking with Gran was a significant experience. Katie recalled standing on a stool at the kitchen counter, learning what goes into cakes and cookies, and practising how to measure accurately. Today she bakes in a gourmet doughnut shop and is complimented by her employers for her depth of knowledge. Norma was a kind, generous, and quietly determined person. I imagine Katie learned a lot more than baking techniques in the time she spent with her Gran.

Sometimes these memories stay top-of-mind, but often they fade over time. Most families have photos of good times and seminal experiences. As our children move through middle age, I think it’s constructive to reconnect them with who they were when they were young and hopeful. We can do this by sorting through the family photos and sharing the treasures.
Gifting Ideas

A legacy of material possessions…

For many people, financial inheritance comes to mind when they hear the word legacy. Money is one of the physical things we leave behind, but not the only one. Most of us have a combination of family heirlooms and our own precious objects with stories of how we acquired them.

The stories are an important part of the objects, yet they are lost when we don’t make a conscious effort to pass them along. Without the stories, our belongings become just old things.
giftinh Ideas

A legacy of what you know…

How many of us have said, “I wish I knew how Mom made _____________. I found the recipe when I cleaned out her kitchen, but it doesn’t turn out the same when I make it.”
A few years ago, it hit me that my family would put “fudge” in the blank. I learned the principles of sugar crystallization in a food science lab at university, then developed and refined my fudge-making method over the years. I use the recipe from the lab book, which is the same as almost any basic fudge recipe.

The magic is in the unwritten techniques such as washing down undissolved crystals with a pastry brush while the mixture is cooking, transferring the cooked sugar syrup to a clean bowl, cooling until barely lukewarm, and having a strong stirring arm. All of these support the formation of fine crystals. The result is, my family will tell you, the smoothest most-gorgeous fudge you will ever find, says she in all modesty 🙂

Everyone has these recipes. Think about it and I’m sure you’ll come up with at least a few of yours that can’t be duplicated without extra instructions. Maybe it’s something you learned from you mom and it has never been written down. Which reminds me, I must get my mom’s potato salad recipe down on paper with the particular methods that make it like no other. My kids ask me to bring it to family meals, and they will be disappointed if they can’t reproduce the unique texture and flavour when I’m no longer here to do it.

Sharing our treasures…

Here’s my share. Click on the snowman to find out how to make the fudge that’s in the tin. You’ll get a copy of the recipe sheet (maybe more properly called a booklet!) that I prepared a few years ago so my kids can make fudge as I know it.

So…what treasures do you have to share? Not just recipes, but anything that came to mind as you read this blog. Delight and inspire us by leaving your shares in the comment box.

Seize the opportunity…

**Time for this post? Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…5 minutes. Implementation…undoubtedly the hardest part.

Seize what opportunity?

I’m thinking of the holiday advantage of having family members all together at some time during the season.

And do what with that opportunity?

Use it as a chance to talk about your wishes for body disposition when you are no longer using it. Or—if you are an adult child of living parents—it’s a chance for you to find out what they want.

What would I talk about?

Continue reading

Eco-friendly Cremation

**Time for this post? Reading…10 minutes. Viewing…24 minutes. Assimilation…up to you.

Last week I wrote about green burial, and what options are available where I live. Today we’ll take a look at cremation from a similar perspective.

Cremation is inherently more environmentally friendly than burial because it does not require land and doesn’t leave toxic formaldehyde leaching into the soil.

Even so, cremation is not a perfect solution.  It is done at temperatures of 1400-1800°F for 45-90 minutes. This consumes large quantities of fuel, releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. There are toxic emissions from lacquers and glues in the containers that are incinerated with the body. Toxic mercury vapours from amalgam fillings also come out of the smokestack. According to sevenponds.com Continue reading

Natural Burial

**Time for this post?  Reading…10  minutes. Listening…2 minutes. Investigating…up to you.

I taught a course in consumer issues for many years. Early on, I recognized that there’s a difference between information and access. In other words, it’s one thing to know about something you’d like to have, it’s another to be able to get it.

This is true with natural burials, as I discovered when I began asking about what’s available where I live. What follows is not a definitive treatise on green burial. It’s a working paper to give some direction to your own thinking and investigating if a natural funeral appeals to you.

I live in Calgary, a Canadian city of 1.2 million people. I gathered information from staff at one of the city-run cemeteries as well as an alternative funeral director. I also did some reading to discover the key aspects of a green burial. Here’s what I learned.

The greenest of green…

The Natural Burial Association describes it like this: Continue reading

Do you find it depressing?

**Time for this post?  Reading…3 minutes. Video…12 minutes. Thinking…up to you.

Now that I’ve started thinking about the ins and outs of dying, I find myself in conversations about what I’m learning and considering.

Last week, I had one of those conversations with a long-time friend. We discussed my developing ideas about donating my body to medical education and writing my own obituary. As we were wrapping up, Barb said, “Do you find it depressing, all this planning for dying?” That’s a fair question, especially given our cultural denial of death.

My answer: “Not at all.”

Continue reading

Thinking about dying…

Lately, I’ve been thinking about dying. Not that I’m planning to do it any time soon, but because I realize how little I know about dying…and about what it would take to die well.

You’d think I would be well-versed on the subject by now, considering that my parents, four grandparents, and one sister have all died during my adulthood. But my ignorance is no surprise, considering that dying isn’t talked about in Western culture except perhaps in hushed tones and very private conversations.

Because we don't talk about death, we don't know what to expect—and we certainly don't know how to help somebody who's in the midst of the dying process.

Yet 100% of us are going to die.

Continue reading

Life happens.

Having been the Class Historian at my high school graduation, I was invited to speak at our 50th reunion. That got me thinking about the 18-year-old me and what she thought life was about. As I recall, I had the impression that I would “do what I was supposed to” and life would proceed on an upward climb until I got “there.” Then it would level off to a smooth and comfortable plateau.

That was the plan. And then life happened.

As life threw me one curveball after another, I learned that it’s full of ups and downs. None expected or planned for. No cushy plateau.

As I learned how to move forward in the face of these experiences, I began to see that they were growth opportunities.

That’s life.

At the moment, I’m in the midst of yet another growth experience.  Unlike Frank Sinatra, I haven’t given myself a deadline. But I do need some time to experience and process rather than write. So this blog is on hiatus for a while.

Energy work is a big part of what has allowed me to grow from my experiences. Here are some insights into how this has worked for me…

And…if you’d like to know when I start writing again, enter your email address in the box on the right-hand column of the home page. Click the button and you’ll get a notice in your inbox when the next blog appears.

In the meantime, may all our growth experiences be no more than we can handle.

The Precautionary Principle

In this culture, where technology makes a lot of things possible and affordable, we North Americans are inclined to embrace new things wholeheartedly. Some would say we’ve thrown caution to the wind in the rush toward new and improved.

If we stopped to take a breath, we might decide that sometimes the precautionary principle is called for. The Canadian Environmental Law Association defines it this way: “The precautionary principle denotes a duty to prevent harm, when it is within our power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in.”

Instead of asking how much harm we are willing to permit, the Precautionary Principle asks how little harm is possible.

Sometimes it takes a number of years for harm to show up. By then, many people have been affected. By the time we experience these unintended consequences, the product is entrenched in such a way that banning it becomes an epic struggle. Bisphenol A (BPA) is one example. Read this blog for more about toxic ingredients in non-food items we use regularly.

We’d like to think that scientists can do a study and find definitive proof of the safety (or not) of a product. Not so. Scientific uncertainty is a fact of life, and scientists word their statements cautiously.

Years ago, when I was investigating the relationship between food additives and children’s behaviour, I watched a film in which a highly placed Canadian health official talked about food additives and safety. He said, “We can never definitely prove safety. At the most, we can say that, in the quantities given and under the conditions of the test, a particular additive is probably not unsafe.”

I remember his statement so vividly because it was one of those pivotal moments when a bubble burst for me. Before then, I had lived under the happy illusion that if something had been tested and approved, then it was clearly safe for consumption. In that moment, I realized this is not true. Stating that something is “probably not unsafe” is quite different from providing an assurance that it is safe.

Preventing harm…

By allowing new products to be widely used until proven harmful, we become inadvertent test subjects. What if we changed our attitude and created a culture of preventing harm instead? We could ask how little harm is possible instead of how much harm we are willing to permit. The precautionary principle is based on this important distinction.

Instead of waiting for proof that something is harmful, what if we created a culture of preventing harm?

Originating in Germany in the 1970s, the precautionary principle has now become part of international law. We can hope that our governments will use this principle to guide their decisions and avoid unintended negative consequences from new chemicals being introduced into our food and environment.

In reality, this doesn’t always happen. Many products in the marketplace are detrimental to our health and well-being. So it’s important that we take individual action to look after ourselves. That’s what healthy deviance is about.

But we need to keep a sense of proportion…

Conscious consumption challenges us to choose judiciously rather than react in a knee-jerk fashion. We need to keep a sense of proportion. Automatically shunning everything new is as shortsighted as mindlessly adopting everything that comes along.

Someone who generally takes a balanced view is Dr. Alan Christianson, a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD) who writes a useful newsletter. One thing I appreciate is that he’s an independent thinker. Rather than repeating the common wisdom, he investigates by reading research studies and forming his own assessment. Sometimes he does a direct investigation himself.

In the video below, he is looking into the level of electromagnetic fields generated by appliance and devices in his house. Many of us wonder if we should turn our wi-fi off when it’s not in use, or if we should be concerned about carrying a cellphone in our pocket. He measures these and much more.

The video received a lot of response, so the following week he posted another one to answer the questions that arose.

I’m curious what you think. Looking forward to comments.

Normal is not something to aspire to

For a long time, I have thought that we live in a culture where “normal” is the lowest common denominator and, therefore, not something I want to aim for.

Food for thought...It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society. Krishnamurti

I thought I was alone in my opinion—until I heard and interview with Pilar Gerasimo. She is a health journalist and change agent best known for her work as founding editor of Experience Life, a whole-person healthy living magazine that reaches more than three million people nationwide.

In an article titled “The Making of a Healthy Deviant: Choosing a Healthy Life in an Unhealthy World” she says,

Becoming and staying a healthy person in our culture is tougher than it ought to be. You can’t just roll merrily along with the unhealthy status quo, or you’ll become part of it. You have to maintain a base level of hyper-vigilance just to avoid getting sucked into the dominant-culture machine.

Healthy deviance is a term she coined. According to Pilar, it means “being different—in a weirdly healthy, happy way.” She elaborates…

Choosing to be a healthy person in an unhealthy world means becoming an outlier. It means frequently walking against the traffic of a mass-hallucination — and that’s not something most people are prepared to do.

The good news is that we can live outside the “normal” culture without moving to a cave or shunning the good things in modern culture. According to Pilar, healthy deviance is a change in awareness and behaviour that involves…

  • Waking yourself up and noticing what’s going on within and around you.
  • Reclaiming your energy, attention and autonomy.
  • Learning to think differently, choose differently, be different in ways that please you.
  • Hopping off the conveyor belt and tossing some well-placed wrenches into the dominant-culture machine.
Healthy Deviance is choosing to become and remain healthy even in the midst of an unhealthy culture. Pilar Gerisimo

The Living Experiment

Pilar has recently teamed up with Dallas Hartwig to produce a podcast called The Living Experiment. Dallas is co-author of The Whole30 and It Starts With Food. He’s a functional medicine practitioner, Certified Sports Nutritionist, and licensed physical therapist

The Living Experiment is one of my favourite podcasts. I appreciate their thoughtful conversations about the issues we encounter in trying to thrive in an unhealthy world. These are some of my favourite topics, but there are many others so scan the list and see what appeals to you.

  • Purpose vs Pleasure
  • Eating Meat
  • Conscious Language
  • The Health of Others
  • Conscious Eating

So…I’m interested in your thoughts on the concept of healthy deviance. Can you relate or not? Do you have experience in trying to thrive in an unhealthy world, even though you didn’t call your actions healthy deviance? I’d love your comments if you have anything to share about this post.