By Bob AulAs the terminally ill Timothy Leary once pointed out, "We're all going to die. It's just a matter of scheduling."
That doesn't mean we should let it ruin our day, though. Take me, for instance. I just found out I'm probably going to die of cancer at the age of 77, but you don't hear mewhining about it. I just figure as long as we're all going to keel over someday, we might as well do it in style. That's why I've compiled the following guide to dying well, with the assistance of a number of morbid folks on the Internet who spend a lot more time thinking about the subject than I do.
Step 1: Know when you're going to die. There are a bunch of sites online that will cheerfully calculate your lifespan for you. One of the better ones is the Death Test (test.thespark.com/deathtest). This is where I learned of my grim fate at age 77. Just answer a bunch of questions measuring your medical history and degree of suicidal risk (sample: Do you swallow knives/in-line skate in traffic/watch South Park?) and let TheSpark.com do the calculations for you.
If you don't like the answer, hop on over to the Death Clock (www.deathclock.com), which was set up by one of my old college professors. This one's much less elaborate: enter your birth date and sex, select which mode you want (Normal, Pessimistic or Sadistic), and the Death Clock tells you how many seconds you have left to live in a little pop-up window that lets you watch the numbers tick down. I can expect to live nearly two years longer, according to the Death Clock, than the Death Test gave me (dying Sept. 11, 2048 as opposed to Sept. 30, 2046).
Step 2: Come up with some pithy last words. Elizabeth Barrett Browning exited the Earth still rhyming. The Duke of Monmouth (d. 1685) shuffled off this mortal coil with the immortal words "There are six guineas for you, and do not hack me as you did my Lord Russell." Surely you can do as well as they did. The Last Words Browser (www.alsirat.com/lastwords) has these and dozens of other (literally) famous last words you can derive inspiration from, ranging from the classic ("Father, into your hands I commend my spirit") to the obscure ("Nurse, it was I who discovered that leeches have red blood") to the merely puzzling ("On the ground").* This is your parting shot to the world, after all. Make it count.
Step 3: Amass enough money for a sumptuous funeral. Assuming that, like us and most other non-Republicans, you're not wallowing in excess wealth, you're going to need to scrape together some cash for that final party. Given that robbing a bank is out (unless you're planning on decreasing that life expectancy real quick), I'd recommend placing a bet or two on the Celebrity Dead Pool (www.stiffs.com). This is the home of the Lee Atwater Invitational Dead Pool, an annual celebration of celebrity mortality in which the annual winner takes home a whopping $3,000; the 1999 pool had 919 entries from all over the world. The way a dead pool works: you send them your entry fee and your list of 10 celebrities you think are going to die in the next year. At the end of the year, the person with the most correct guesses takes home the loot. Of course, this isn't free money. You'll have to do your research and learn the rules of the game—and this particular game has been around long enough to have accumulated a dizzying variety of additions, variations and codicils, including the Carl Sagan Stipulation, the Robert Young Edict and the Homo Sapiens Standard. But at the end of the year, assuming you guessed right, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you've profited from your fellow humans' suffering.
Step 4: Make burial arrangements. The City of the Silent Web site (alsirat.com/silence) is a repository of all things cemeterial. This is the place to go for info on epitaphs, tombstones and other aspects of cemetery culture. If you like, you can listen to appropriately funereal music while you surf the site (choose from Bach's Toccata in D minor, Chopin's Funeral March and others) to get you in the right mood. For more artistic inspiration, check out Beneath Los Angeles(www.beneathlosangeles.com), which features photographs of various famous and infamous dead people's gravesites, including those of Walt Disney (no, it's not a picture of the secret cryonic chamber under Pirates of the Caribbean) and John Wayne.
Step 5: Decide how you're going to die. Statistical life expectancies are all well and good, but sometimes it's nice to take one's destiny into one's own hands. If you want some control over the time (and, more important, the manner) of your death, I'd recommend first visiting the Darwin Awards site (www.darwinawards.com) for some sterling examples of how notto die. Every year, the Darwin Awards celebrate people who did the greatest service to the human gene pool by exiting it, often in spectacularly stupid ways. An example: two drunk guys in India were mauled, one to death, after they attempted to put a garland of marigolds around the neck of a tiger. Amazingly, they were only a runner-up; the winner that year was a Polish farmer who, determined to prove how macho he was, cut off his own head with a chainsaw.