Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The not-so-fun part of death planning

I’ve always been a big cemetery fan. Don’t let me stop at a graveyard if we’re trying to get somewhere because you’ll be stuck there with me for hours as I look at every single grave, figuring out who’s related to who else nearby, calculating life spans from the dates on the stones and imagining what all the various people were like. It’s like entering a mall with one of those people that loves to buy things. They’ll never tire of trying things on and looking at every single item.That’s me, at a cemetery (except that I don’t actually try on the graves, I just look.) For that reason, shopping for a gravesite is not unpleasant.

Visiting the funeral home, on the other hand, was not what I’d call “a good time.” It’s not as morose as it would be if the person had died yesterday, but it certainly does bring the death “to life” so to speak. Whereas strolling around a cemetery is more like “a walk in the park,” something we’ve all done many times, at the funeral home, you have to actually imagine that the person has just died.

Anyway, here’s the stupid part. If the person has indeed just died yesterday, and you are only just now going to the funeral home for the first time, you are very likely to give unwise answers to some of the long list of questions they’ll ask. For instance, “Do you want the extra-plush six inch mattress on the bottom of the casket that’s covered with 100% silk brocade, or do you want the three-inch pad that’s covered in plain cotton?” When you’re in the thick of grief, you feel like an absolute disrespectful cheapskate if you pick the economy option. So you blurt out that of COURSE you want the silk brocade extra plush. You’ll accept only the very best for [insert name here].

I have just enough experience with death to know that even my super-pragmatic self might be swayed by grief into extravagant choices. I’m in the very fortunate position to have a friend who was once (and is not now) in the funeral business, so she has given me blow-by-blow advice for every step of the way. She knows how people get, how people feel at these grief-stricken times, and the kind of choices they make to try to make it better.

Now that no one is dying, I know full well that my father would scoff copiously, dare I say snort audibly, at luxury funeral options. He would also be seriously disturbed (and probably writhe in his grave) if he knew that his expiration caused his family members to spend large sums of money on his death arrangements. He’d want us to keep that money and spend it on the living. The whole family is in solid agreement on this, because even though he has Alzheimers now, we’ve known him all our lives, and we know that’s what he would, and did, say.

More of my findings to follow: about just how much debt you can incur simply by dropping dead.



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