Most people get very squirmy when the topic of death and dying comes up. Totally understandable, it can have some unpleasant memories of loss and uncertainty. However, it really is unavoidable. At some time, for whatever reason, Death will find you and move you on to – well, whatever comes next. I chose Sir Terry Pratchett’s Death as the image for this piece because A) he’s my favorite Discworld character and B) less spooky than some of the options out there.
If you’ve been along for this ride for a while, you know that I think very highly of #CatlinDoughty, #TheOrderoftheGood Death, and #AskAMortician. There’s a tremendous amount of important information available, and it’s all presented in, an open and gentle way. Not the classic funeral director solicitous kind of slime; this is more along the lines of “Hey, you have a question? Awesome, let’s talk.” Yes, I am a member of the Order, yes, I have peppered and pestered my family with my wishes for what happens when I leave this shell, and in some cases, begged for advanced directives from certain individuals. (I’m looking at you, Mum. “Just do whatever” is not helpful.)
We’re in the midst of this terrible and deeply frightening pandemic, many people have lost loved ones, friends and family, and some days it feels as if Death is just lurking around the corner. (Frankly, there’s a turn I take that has me crossing myself and I’m not even Catholic. If that’s where Death comes for me, I won’t be all that surprised.) Funeral homes are at, or above capacity, and it just seems like a depressing task to think about your demise. On the other hand, instead of thinking of this as a sad or morbid thing, consider it as an act of love for those you leave behind. Having a plan in place, or even paid for, means that people can work through their grief process.
Why bring this up now? Someone very dear to me lost a family member quite unexpectedly. Not to the virus, but even if that had been the case, it would have been nice to have some more directives than. “Cremation. Scatter the ashes here.” Being somewhat distanced physically from this situation, and not really having the funds to hop a plane to do what? Walk the dog? Make a casserole? Social distancing doesn’t really allow for the kind of physical contact that comforts. I asked, and got the OK, if I could call around to the various funeral homes in this city to get pricing, and what was included in the package. Yes, you’re allowed to do that. It’s perfectly acceptable to say “My friend has lost a family member, and I’m trying to help the family. Can you tell me about your pricing and policies?” At first, it felt very surreal, but as I went down the list, I found that pricing for what amounts to the same thing varies – by the thousands of dollars. There were also places that either didn’t answer the phone, or were at capacity. Even if there wasn’t this pandemic, there may be issues. This isn’t something that many people think about. There’s a sense of “Oh we’ve always used Coffin Brothers mortuary (yes, a nod to Ferris Bueller) and you know – they may not be the best option for you or for your pocket. Oh, and things like a pacemaker removal are about $125 on top of what’s in the packages, and that doesn’t cover taxes.
OK – which funeral home? What options do you want? Is it important for you to take your childhood teddy with you? Do you want a funeral, a wake, or a celebration of life? To be fair, the last are for the survivors, but you can definitely say “Have a margarita bar” or the like. Why not get this on paper or in an email? For the love of Heaven, you’ve got a fairly good idea of what you’re going to do when Fido or Mr. Mittens passes, doesn’t it make sense to do the same for yourself. Would you prefer a green burial, where you are placed in the earth in a cotton or linen shroud, with nothing but the Earth to welcome you? You can actually do this at Joshua Tree National Park which is completely amazing. Those plots are also much less costly than those in a cemetery. Would you rather be in a mausoleum, and lay with family all around you? Planning for those expenses, making sure that your wants, your desires are known isn’t being gross or selfish. It’s practical, and heaven knows that’s not a bad thing.
I’m not going to push you into doing something that offends you, or worse, gives you nightmares and anxiety for days. That’s not the point here. But if you have preferences, let them be known, and yes, if at all possible, pay for them in advance. There is nothing more gutting that getting a monthly reminder that this person has passed because you’re paying what amounts to a credit card for a funeral that costs about what a decent used car goes for. It’s certainly nothing that I’d want my family to deal with. My husband I have discussed our options – and there are options! That’s kind of the point of asking questions and looking at the videos and visiting websites. If you want to be buried in you AMC Gremlin (nod to Wayne’s World) in a classic T-shirt and shades – set it up. Know it’s going to be pricey. Plan.
So, in case you are wondering, my first request would be donation to science. There might be some kind of great information about parathyroid disease that comes from that. I’ve also heard that skeletons are much in need, though I’m not sure how that flies with the replacement knee. I won’t know. The second option I would like is the green burial. Just dump me into a nice hole somewhere, maybe scatter some apple seeds around me, and off you go. Cremation is my last acceptable choice, and that would be in the event I’d had chemo or something that prevented me from the green burial. I have a plan, it’s noted, and yes, I’m starting a “death fund” to keep it as easy as possible for those I leave.
Yes, death can be scary. It’s a process. I’d much rather be at home, in relative comfort, than in a hospital. Yes, for every surgery, I go in with a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) because the very idea of having my ribs broken with CPR and being shot up with all kinds of stimulants doesn’t sound peaceful or pleasant. Let me go in a place where there’s love, and hopefully family.
One last thing – I’m not in that dark place in my mind in which leaving this place is a priority. I’m fairly content, if not happy and a little fatigued. Do not worry or stress that this is some kind of “Farewell cruel world!” posting. Life is good, and you and I are loved.