How to Stiff Your Undertaker

Death may be as sure as taxes, but unlike taxes death doesn’t have to cost you anything. I know this is true because two people I loved dearly have died this last year—and both of them passed without passing on any expenses to those they left behind.

This post shows you a way to handle life’s aftermath that is both convenient and cost-free. It is also sensitive and sensible. This approach isn’t right for everyone, but it might be right for you or someone you love. All it requires is an open mind, a giving attitude, and a little advance planning. So submitted humbly for your consideration is today’s post, which lamentably amounts to a postmortem.

Some Advance Planning

My wife’s parents were modest people. Ann and John didn’t like to be fussed over, but both of them loved to fuss over others. They taught English and Science to middle-schoolers (and there has to be a special place in heaven for those who do that). During summers, they gardened and took seriously their stewardship of fruit trees. They raised two wonderful children. They shared generously with neighbors and with their community. They were givers.

In the spring of 2013, Ann was 77 years old and John was 82. They sat my wife and I down in their kitchen and told us how they wanted their final arrangements handled. First of all, they didn’t want any funeral or memorial service. This came as no surprise. They didn’t like being the center of attention in life and they certainly didn’t want to be the center of attention in death. Second of all, they told us that they had decided to donate their bodies to science. This was a surprise. They explained that they had read about a critical shortage of cadavers for medical research and wanted to do something that would potentially improve the quality of life for others. They said that their donation would eliminate all expense of burial because after their bodies had been used, their remains would be cremated and returned to us at absolutely no cost (and that’s the part that caught my attention the most).

They handed us some paperwork from an organization called Science Care which laid everything out (if not to rest):


You have joined an amazing community of people that are changing the world by advancing healthcare.

Every day, Science Care donors contribute to a wide variety of medical education, research, and training projects, such as research on Alzheimer’s disease, multiple types of cancer, heart disease, and training thousands of physicians each year on the latest medical techniques.

Many people meet criteria for donation, including those with cancer, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. Please note that while we strive to facilitate every donation it is conditional upon medical and suitability criteria at the time of passing. This honors the intent of donation and safely serves the needs of the medical community. Exclusions may include contagious disease, extreme obesity and extensive orthopedic surgeries.

Therefore, establishing an alternate plan is advisable as well as informing your family of your wishes should donation not be possible. This could be as simple as designating a burial or cremation. . . .


Share your wish to donate with those likely to be involved in your arrangements.
To ease the process:

o  Personalized ID Cards Enclosed [see photos below]

Donation Services Coordinators are here to help and to answer your questions.
At the time of passing they will obtain:

A brief medical screening
o  Legal informed donation and cremation consent
o  Death certificate information
o  Information for the return of the cremated remains

Questions? We’re here to help.

Call 24 Hours a Day at 800.417.3747


Front side of Science Care card

Some Bad News 

On August 5, 2013, my wife and I were in Maine visiting my side of the family. The phone rang with bad news from my wife’s cousin Charlie. Ann had just undergone emergency surgery for an intestinal tumor which was cancerous (she had stopped him from calling us sooner because she hadn’t wanted to interrupt our vacation—which was so typical of her). Despite a successful surgery, she remained terminally ill. Her doctors said that she had only weeks or months to live. The next day my wife boarded a plane back to Colorado. I followed by car.

Instead of signing up for aggressive treatment, which at best would have secured a few more painful months, Ann opted for hospice care at home. My wife, her brother, and I all moved into Ann and John’s house so that we could be with her and help out where we could. She died in late October.


Reverse side of Science Care card

As instructed by the Science Care handout, within an hour after Ann died, hospice services called the 1-800 number for us. My wife then spent 15 minutes answering questions about Ann’s medical condition and the circumstances of her death. Ann was approved for whole body donation. A hearse drove up with a soft-spoken young man dressed in black. He took her away from us. A few days later we received a voice mail from Science Care leaving a contact number for grief counselors. A few days after that we received a letter of condolence from Science Care that was signed in ink by a real person. About three weeks after Ann’s death, Science Care called again and told us that we could expect to receive her remains back by overnight mail within a few days. This happened as promised.

My wife and I continued to live with John so that he could remain at home and stay out of assisted living. He got on well enough, but losing a mate of so many years is difficult. John had a chronic heart condition. He died in September of this year after a short stay at the hospital. He was calling the shots about his treatment right up until his last few hours. The hospital called Science Care for us and after that it all went with John just as it had gone before with Ann. Science Care delivered their services as promised and cost-free.

Some Aftermath

So there you have it. We’re among the few people on the planet who have used Science Care not once but twice and lived to tell the tale. Both experiences were positive. I’ve also checked on Science Care’s background. The company has been in business since 2000 and boasts an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. It is also accredited by the American Association of Tissue Banks, which sets standards for the body donation industry. Science Care received a favorable mention in a recent article by The Economist which was leery about most of the companies that deal in donated remains. If you would like to learn more about Science Care, visit www.ScienceCare.com.

*   *   *

When my wife and her brother were young kids their family traveled from Colorado all the way up to Alaska and back again. On this trip John would recite aloud—first from a book and later from memory—a Robert Service poem which is set in Alaska and describes cost-free rites of its own: The Cremation of Sam McGee. Its lines have been kicked around at family gatherings ever since. The night John died, we took the tattered paperback down from the shelf and read the poem aloud to each other. It wasn’t quite a funeral but it was quite fitting.

Photo by Pete Markham

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12 Responses to How to Stiff Your Undertaker

  1. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom October 22, 2014 at 6:07 AM #

    It sounds like these two knew what they were doing. We hope to do something similiar: give whatever is useful and then scatter our ashes somewhere fun. Thank you for sharing this intimate story with us and I’m sorry for your loss.
    Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom recently posted…Engaged without a Ring: The Tale of our Engagement CatMy Profile

    • A Noonan Moose October 22, 2014 at 7:21 AM #

      Thanks Emily!

  2. Free to Pursue October 22, 2014 at 11:25 AM #

    I believe that, based on what you have shared with us, Ann and John would be pleased to know they have continued to be of service to others, even beyond their all-important decision. What a beautiful & lasting way to honour their memory.

    On a related note, I am familiar with the poem and it was a pleasure to read it again. One phrase struck me as particularly suiting: “a promise made is a debt unpaid”. I will keep this phrase in mind when called upon to honour a loved one’s wishes.

    Thank you for sharing this important personal experience.

    • A Noonan Moose October 22, 2014 at 2:49 PM #

      Thanks F2P. As i tried to show in the post, Ann and John were great peeps.

  3. dojo October 24, 2014 at 5:15 AM #

    AMAZING PEOPLE! Many people (especially older) wouldn’t be willing to donate their bodies, citing either religious beliefs or the fact they just want a ‘proper’ burial. I admire Ann and John, they were great people even in death. Their sacrifice means others might live, since science needs such bodies to advance.
    dojo recently posted…Underwater Mortgage: What Should You Do?My Profile

    • A Noonan Moose October 24, 2014 at 6:33 AM #

      Their decision about their bodies reflects a generous minimalism. Each understood that they possessed something that at some point they would no longer have any use for. So when the time was right they gave it away.

  4. Myles Money October 24, 2014 at 8:41 PM #

    What a generous thing to do. I have friends who are studying medicine but I never stopped to wonder where they obtained their cadavers till now.
    Myles Money recently posted…Banana Milkshake #FrugalFriday #VideoMy Profile

    • A Noonan Moose October 24, 2014 at 9:17 PM #

      Their donations were very nice final gestures. Thanks for commenting MM.

  5. debt debs October 25, 2014 at 5:29 AM #

    I’m sorry for your loss. How kind of you to live with them during this period. My father has left the exact same instructions. He’s made arrangements to donate his body to science, wants no memorial service, or obituary. He said a house party like an Irish wake would be just fine. He’s 89 years old and still living on his own but I think of this often.
    debt debs recently posted…55 Reasons it’s Okay To Be 55My Profile

    • A Noonan Moose October 25, 2014 at 7:35 AM #

      Thank you DD. It sounds like your own dad is doing great—could it be the Guinness?


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