For several years our two kids have been after me and my wife to make plans for our grand finales. They wanted to know whether Irene and I had decided to be buried or cremated. Had we made any arrangements, put our wishes in writing, paid any money for these last steps of our lives?

Since all the answers were “no,” I called a funeral home recently and asked if we could come in and talk about such things.

“Of course,” the man who answered the phone said. “Did you want to do it this weekend?”

“Well, I was hoping we would live at least until the weekend after next,” I said.

Several days later we were welcomed at the door of the funeral home by a man in his 50s and a male intern. Our meeting was upstairs, reached by conquering a dozen or so steep steps. Irene uses a cane these days, and, always the helpful one, I told her, “You know if you can’t make it up those stairs they bury you right away.” Sometimes she laughs when I’m acting like a 16-year-old. This was not one of those times.

Here are a few of the things I learned during a half-hour meeting.

Cremations are done at a facility about an hour from where we live on Long Island. Contrary to what I suspected they aren’t performed after hours at a pizza place near the train station, the one that brags about their wood-burning oven.

Funeral homes, or at least this one, do not have specials or sales. I didn’t ask about $10 off coupons, but I suspect they don’t have those either.

There is an additional charge--$255 in fact—if you do something dumb like die after 5 p.m. and your survivors want your body picked up before morning. They also sock you $255 for a body transported on a holiday. I did not ask what the charge is if you die after 5 p.m. on a holiday. Is it $255 times two?

After cremation, what’s left of you would fit in an orange juice carton, yet another reason to be on your toes and only buy OJ in clear plastic bottles just in case there’s been a mix-up.

We were told most people ask for six copies of a death certificate to help survivors deal with legal matters. If I can get on an airplane now with a boarding pass on my iPhone, is there a death certificate app for phones? We would save about $60 if there were.

Most people order memorial cards to be handed out at their service. We’re not religious, and most of the memorial cards we saw had themes designed for believers. Irene and I haven’t discussed it yet, but we could save $100 if we made our own cards. Just off the top of my head, cards for my service could have a picture of a snow-covered mountain on one side and on the other something like, “You wouldn’t believe the chaos down here. Trust me. Start behaving yourself” or “Hope you’re having a better day than I am.”

We talked mostly about Irene’s wishes because she wants to be cremated. I’m still debating. While a burial is a waste of land, I’ve enjoyed walking through old cemeteries and thought I might come up with a wisecrack for my tombstone. Maybe “There’s nothing to see here. Keep moving” or “And I thought things were going so well.”

Irene and I will soon make some decisions before giving the funeral home a down payment. Between now and then, I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the intern. While the older guy was adding up figures, I asked the intern a couple of questions, including why he decided to go into the funeral business.

He said his father was a funeral director.

“Well,” I asked, “if your dad was a car thief would you have become a car thief?”

He smiled but he didn’t want to. Young man, I wish you a good life and a good career and hope it’s a long time before we’re together again.


(This was first published in the October, 2018 edition of the Great South Bay Magazine.)

Posted on this website October 9, 2018.