Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A matter of life and death

I've been thinking about death a lot lately. Liz got me started when she wrote about what she wants written in her obituary. I'm not an obituary reader myself, but my mom is, so I take a glance at the death page every once in a while when I'm visiting their house. Just like Liz, I'm bothered when the text of the obituary makes no reference to the cause of death, especially if the person died at a young age.

Besides having the cause of death listed, I don't really have a lot of strong feelings about what is included in my own obituary. Instead, I really, really care about what kind of coffin I have. I don't know that I've ever heard anything more ridiculous, in my personal opinion, than spending thousands of dollars on an ornate casket. If that's what the person wanted, that's one thing, but I am going to leave specific instructions (note to self: make wishes on this matter known somewhere other than just my blog) for my casket to be something simple like this:

I used to have my exact casket picked out at, but that site appears to have gone out of business. But you get the idea. Just a plain, simple box. And with the money they saved on my coffin, I want my family to go do something fun. That way, everybody wins.

I've also recently formed an opinion on what kind of grave marker I want. This summer, in Middlebury, Miriam and I used to go on walks in St. Mary's Cemetery near campus. I was hugely pregnant and while I enjoyed the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of the cemetery, more than anything I just wanted to SIT DOWN somewhere. But I figured that standing up for long periods of time was just one of those things you have to put up with when you're visiting a cemetery.

Friends, I was wrong. Jen commented on Liz's post that she wants a bench in place of a headstone at her eventual gravesite. Brilliant! That is definitely what I want - to be useful even after I die, just like Jen.

The final issue to deal with when thinking about death is where I want to be buried. This is a tricky one. There is no one cemetery where all my relatives, on either side, have been buried. We're all kind of spread out. I was born in Idaho, grew up in Oregon, and have lived in Utah, Japan, Russia, Syria, Jordan, Tucson, and Middlebury. Even though we've been married for seven years now, Jeremy and I really haven't put down any roots anywhere yet. So this question is still up in the air.

How about you? What kind of coffin do you want? How about a headstone? And where do you want to be buried? I'm especially interested to hear anyone's arguments for an elaborate coffin, or how you have come to a decision about where you will be buried.

(I'm really not trying to be flippant in this post. If any of you have had to deal with these issues recently for a beloved family member, I'm sorry for the timing. But these are honest questions that I've been trying to answer and I'm sure whoever has to deal with my funeral arrangements will be glad I made some specific wishes known. On my blog.)


Liz Johnson said...

I wish blogs were legally binding.

I love the idea of a bench... although then I came up with the idea of a picnic table, so that people could come to cry over my grave and console themselves with a pot of mate. :)

I used to think that I wanted a flat in-the-ground gravemarker, but recently I've been thinking that I want something standing. Made of granite (it holds up the best in weather). And no hearts or teddy bears, for the love of Pete.

And I desperately want to be buried in Brown's Mill Cemetery in Kauffman Station, Pennsylvania... it's this tiny little Mennonite cemetery in rural Pennsylvania where I have a ton of family buried, and my parents have purchased plots there. Also, it's CHEAP! My parents got plots last March, and they paid $250 for 4 plots. To compare, 1 plot in the Orem City Cemetery is $700. But there's a gazebo with a porch swing and a small church nearby. It's just beautiful to me. I love that cemetery.

JackJen said...

Liz beat me to the punch...I wish blogs were legally-binding, too.


Though, the legal optimist in me says that blogs could fall under the "things-the-judge-will-take-into-consideration" umbrella.

I want to be buried as close as possible to wherever Joe's lives with his second wife....and demand mandatory visits to my bench. That she must sit on. Weekly.


...or AM I?

Amanda said...

The only thing that I've ever seriously considered about my arrangements is that in no way, no how do I want a picture of me on my tombstone. Creeps me right out when people do it. The coolest marker I've seen is a granite tree stump to mark a "mountain man's" grave. And I'm not at all disturbed by the fact that you've coffin shopped previous to this bout of pondering. Not at all.

Brittany Cornett said...

All my family on either side is buried at the church lot here in tucson. I want to be buried there. Every memorial day since forever my family goes there and cleans the weeds and puts in new "flowers" there. I like it cause it is natural. I could care less what they layed me in, they could make their own box and decorate it with sharpes and glitter. That would be fun and maybe a little morbid. I want a headstone and not a rock like I have seen around there. Nothing big but just something that identifies who I am so maybe my great grandchildren can so "oh look, that there is my great grandmother". I also want to be buried next to Justin I always think that is cute to see the double graves. Plus we would be able to find each other faster when we get our boddies back. Well this is probably TMI (too much information). I think about it alot, maybe it is the memorial day tradition.

Bridget said...

All this talk of being buried next to one's spouse reminded me of something. In the cemetery in Middlebury, there were several stones that said something like:

John Smith b. 1882 - d. 1965
Mabel Smith b. 1885 -

You realize what is going on here, right? The Smiths went in on a communal tombstone, but then Mabel Smith got herself a new hubby and is buried next to HIM somewhere.

That, or her 123-year-old self is still out there.

The picture on a tombstone thing seems to be popular in Eastern Europe. I don't know. If it was a good photo, maybe it would be acceptable. Creepy, but acceptable.

Liz, if I had the chance to be buried in a Mennonite cemetery, I'd go for it.

Kristen said...

No one has mentioned the option of cremation. What good is a body in the ground taking up valuable real estate? Eventually, won't we kind of run out of room to bury bodies?

Sarah Rose Evans said...

I want to be cremated and scattered in fun places, like Tahoe, Paris, and Bali. But Kristen's comment reminded me a short story
(I think Milan Kundera's) where the protaganist forgets to fill the paperwork to renew his parents' plots and arrives at the cemetary to discover new dead other people in their graves.

Crys said...

I want to be dumped in the ground within 24 hours and a tree planted on top of me. No CREMATION AND NO CEMETERY! Then my family who really cares can come see the tree if it matters that much to them and the rest of the world can just think, "wow that is a mighty fine looking tree, I wonder what they use for fertilizer". This of course is completely illegal even on your own land. I'm still working that part out. Of course I've been working it out since I was ten. When your father is a mortician you spend a lot of time thinking about your own death.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I've read thousands of obits and yes, the trend now is to not name the cause of death. Perhaps it's a privacy thing; also, some newspapers are shrinking their wording to save space, especially if like the Oregonian, they're running them for free.

I'm all for the plain pine box too.

Gravestoneology is an interest of mine (there is actually a group called Association for Gravestone Studies--no, I don't belong). Standing stones are far more interesting than the flat ones. Granite is a must. Many 19th century stones were of marble which weathers badly. Photos on stones are not new--I've seen some from the early 1900s, but they were mounted on, rather than lasered on like now. Our local Russian section in Lone Fir cemetery has some lovely ones. We had a picture of the USS Missouri put on my Dad's stone (his ship during WW2) & it's rather striking.

In some areas of Europe where they have a lot less land available for cemeteries, after a certain number of years the plots are reused. I guess there's not much left after a hundred years. However, this wouldn't work with our modern-day heavy-duty coffins & such.

In a nearby cemetery I recently saw a granite bench in place of a stone. The person's info was engraved on the vertical part of the seat & the top was polished shiny. Nice.

My Dad's family bought 24 plots in 1962 in their church cemetery in Pennsylvania. There are still at least 15 unused, so any of us could be buried there for free, if we wanted.

Here's a thought-provoking verse from a grave in SE Portland:

We can not tell who next may fall
Beneath thy chastening rod.
One must be first but let us all
Prepare to meet our God.

And from Tombstone, Arizona:

Here lies George Johnson.
Hanged by mistake 1882.
He was right, we was wrong.
But we strung him up & now he's gone.

The most memorable gravestone I can think of is in Morris Hill cemetery in Boise of a young man killed in WW1. You can feel the love and the pride of the family. At the top above his name is large letters is written: FOR DEMOCRACY. It gives his info, then a verse:

He left his home in perfect health. He looked so young and brave.
We little thought how soon he'd be
Laid in a soldier's grave.

Crys said...

oops what I meant to say was no embalming...not cremation.

Susanne said...

I like the grave verses Suzanne shared especially the one "FOR DEMOCRACY." Pretty neat.

I haven't contemplated this stuff too much....hmmm. A plain casket is perfectly fine though. Cremation is fine, I think. Hmmmm.

Nattie said...

The bench idea is genius. I'm excited to see where you DO end up putting down roots! We're rootless too...

onlymehere said...

My wishes for an oak simple casket are in my will. I also want my money to spend whatever is left from my life insurance on something fun. I am a cabinetmaker and love the smell of fresh cut wood. I am no longer in my body so I see no reason for all the extra expense and my body will return to the earth quicker if it's in a wooden coffin. I hadn't thought about a headstone but on reading your post I think I really would like a bench too! I like the idea of it. We paid for my mom's funeral when she died without any insurance and no assets and it was a heavy burden on us. An honor but still a burden. I don't want my kids to undergo that after I'm gone. My cause of death will be listed too in my obit as I don't want anyone thinking for one minute that it was a suicide and questioning my family. Anything I can do to make my passing easier for my family, I'll do.

onlymehere said...

P.s. I'll be buried in Utah.

Liz Johnson said...

Bridget, they're not exclusive. You could nab yourself some super-cheap plots in the Mennonite cemetery if you want! I'm dead serious, this is an ongoing conversation with Chris. I almost have him convinced that it is cheaper to buy the four plots and then fly our bodies to the cemetery if we're not nearby. But, secretly, we will be. Because I have a not-so-secret mission to move us to Pennsylvania. I love that place.

Shannan said...

This is a really stupid question, but one I dont' know the answer to. In the LDS faith, can you get cremated?

I've noticed that through all my LDS family members and friends who have passed on, nobody gets cremated.

That is the route I would like to go. Simple, non wasteful and I can have my small pile of ashes scattered somewhere beautiful. I'm hoping that they don't get scattered for many many more years.

Bridget said...

I think that back in the day, cremation was frowned on in LDS circles. The reasoning was something about not wanting to hinder the process of resurrection. But really, either God can resurrect us, or he can't. I think I could be a fan of cremation if I put more thought into it. I like Sarah's idea of spreading ashes in cool places and then I don't have to worry about not having put down roots anywhere.

If any of you Mormons have heard differently, please let me know before I am excommunicated. :)

Liz Johnson said...

I found a couple of websites discussing Mormonism and cremation, but these two actually have quotes and stuff.

Shannan said...

Thank you Liz for the links. That makes a lot of sense coming from the Church's perspective.

Bridget said...

Yes, thank you, Liz. That was interesting to read. And thanks for asking, Shannan. I hadn't thought about cremation before.

Kristen said...

I also enjoyed the articles, and was pleased with the LDS perspective, especially as stated by Spencer Palmer in #2: "All of us need to realize that there are Latter-day Saints around the world who prefer cremation to burial." As simple as that!


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