Monday, April 23, 2007

Cemetery Hopping

I had a bike ride planned last Saturday with a friend -- fortunately, a fair weather friend, which does not mean, as you might think, a friend who only comes through when times are good, but a friend who is amenable to cancellation of plans when the weather is bad. Saturday was horrible. Instead of biking, we saved gas by carpooling around to cemeteries.

So, getting back to the topic of funeral planning: The most important thing I’m learning is that there are 101 decisions to make when someone dies -- and you definitely don’t want to be faced with making up your mind about them under pressure of a ticking clock in the middle of your darkest moments. I know that someday I will kiss myself for having done all this now.

The least amount you can get away with spending is about $1,400. That’s with cremation -- you save loads of money by not having to buy a graveyard plot or a casket or a tombstone. You can buy a fancy urn or you can use another container of some kind, of which you might even already have something suitable around the house.

If money is no object, there is almost no limit as to how much you can spend. But by planning ahead of time, you’ll know you’re making choices based on what you really want and not from caving in to all kinds of conflicted emotional and family pressures that will rain down on you when the big bad thing happens.

For a traditional (casket) burial, the cost quickly jumps up to 6 or 8 thousand dollars – and that’s if you choose all the simplest options, like the super economy coffin – which, you’ll be relieved to know, they don’t actually call “the super economy coffin.” The bottom end of the price scale on coffins is just under a thousand dollars.

There are a dozen steps along the way that you never thought of that someone has to be paid to do, and you can’t really skip any. For example, obviously somebody has to dig the grave, and it has to be someone who knows how, not just you and a few sporting relatives. But that’s not all. You have to purchase a “liner” for the hole, which is a big concrete box that the casket goes in. I believe this is legally required to prevent the shifting of the dirt, especially if it’s on hilly land. (I wonder what keeps the concrete liner from shifting.) Then the cemetery has to hire a crane to lower the liner into the hole ahead of time so that it’s all ready when you get to there. And of course, tombstones are also spendy items even before anything is carved onto them.

They don’t call them tombstones, though. They call them “markers.” A whole language of euphemisms has developed in the mortuary business because apparently Americans (at least on the west coast) don’t like to say words like “grave” or “death.” I’ve heard the business itself referred to as “after life services,” which to me sounds like it could easily be confused with “afterlife services,” which would be best deal since Mae West sold the Brooklyn Bridge. The hearse is called the “funeral coach.” No doubt I’ll learn more tomorrow, when I meet with a staff person at a specific cemetery for even more detailed information.



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