I’m not gonna lie. I have always been preoccupied with death. Mine, in particular, and everyone else’s in general. I mean, as far as we know, nobody has come back to enlighten us yet, right? All we have to go on is circumstantial evidence.
The subject has always fascinated me, but I became obsessed with reading death notices as a teenager. I still read the newspaper the same way each morning. Obits first. I grab a cup of coffee (juice back in the day) and begin. I scan last names to see if there are any I recognize, and read further if there are. I also read the full article if the deceased was very young or very old. Or if he or she came from my hometown. Or my husband Tom’s. Or any place we have ever lived. Think about it. Entire lives condensed into mere paragraphs. Womb to tomb, cradle to grave. And all in 150 words or less. I love a good story, and some of these are pretty darned interesting. I usually skip the “In Memoriam” section. These messages are specifically addressed to the dearly departed and I hate to intrude.
I’ve been accused of being excessively grim, but I kind of like paying my respects to my former Earth-mates, recognizing that birth and death are the two experiences all living beings share. And, once in a while, there is an unintended chuckle. I recently read the obituary of a 99-year-old woman whose survivors felt it important to note that she was predeceased by her parents, a fact, one would think, could be presumed.
So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I have given a great deal of thought as to the disposition of my own final remains.
World War II took cremation off the table for this Jew, and my daughters flatly denied my request to have me stuffed and mounted in a seated position, index finger pointing out. I thought they could share me . . . six months on Linda’s couch, and six on Carly’s.
That leaves burial. My husband is Catholic and I am Jewish, and so, rather than face the issue dead on, so to speak, we very infrequently and overwhelmingly halfheartedly search for other options.
One day, about 10 years ago, Tom and I arrived home around dusk. A man approached the car. He was dressed all in black. He asked if he could come in to discuss our funeral preparations. Just as Tom was saying no, I, having a somewhat macabre sense of humor and equally morbid curiosity, opened the door and let him in.
It turned out he was a representative from the cemetery located conveniently around the corner. The very one that had called several years before, offering a “buy one, get one” sale on graves. Unfortunately, that deal was no longer on the postmortem table.
We threw the two different faiths problem at him, but he threw a solution right back at us. Not only were there separate accommodations for every religious requirement, but there was also a brand-new nonsectarian “neighborhood.” We could share a double plot under “the” tree.
We hit him with another potential roadblock. Our daughters both lived in Florida at the time. What if we bought plots in New York, and then moved out of state?
He unfurled a huge map of the United States, laid it across the kitchen table and then, grinning like the Cheshire cat, spread open his hands, “see all these colored dots?”
“Uh huh,” we nodded, tentatively.
“Well, each dot represents a cemetery within our network. Any place you end up, you can end up.”
“Oy vey,” I thought.
“And you folks are lucky.”
“How so?” I asked, not really feeling all that lucky, to tell the truth
“You and your beloved would be buying into our most expensive property. There would be no upcharge wherever you end up ending up. Apparently, he liked that little funeral funny.
We did not buy a plot (or two), but later that night it occurred to me that this would not just be the final resting place, it would be the final timeshare.
Rhonda Farber Donovan,