From time to time, I think about death. Now at this stage of my life, I think about it even more. Or more often. I like to call this stage "the September of my life"--the fall time when it comes to the four seasons. The beginning of the end.
There was a time when I was new in the States, I attended a seminar at work. I think it was a meeting actually of managers in the big cities of Southern California. Sometime during one of the symposiums, there was a question raised, asking "Where do you think you will be 25 years from now?" It caught me by surprise, because at the time, I was not thinking 25 years into the future. I was not even thinking five years, much more 25 years. Yes, I was young and restless. More like young and stupid. Somehow, I was not thinking I would live that long.
Well, that was 37 years ago. And I am still alive. And of course, a lot of things happened in those 37 years.
Last week, one of our long-time friends died. Actually, she was the mother of my siblings' friends, but since she was closer to our age than my younger brothers and sisters, we were friends with her and her husband.
The news was sudden, and we tried to squeeze some time to attend either the novena or the rosary in her honor. My work schedule did not allow me to attend the interment, and I was a little bummed about it too.
So the first chance I got, I went to the cemetery a couple of days after she was buried, and with the help of the cemetery personnel, I was able to visit her
plot and paid my respects. Said a little prayer.
The interesting thing about it was that she was buried at the cemetery that I pass by twice a day to and from work. There was a time when I showed interest in that cemetery, one of the places we considered in case of our death, my wife and I. And to make it more interesting, we found out that it is a Catholic cemetery.
So while I was there, I went ahead and picked up some brochures, and I even asked the Family Service Counselor (that is his title) about some prices and "accommodations," if that is what they call it. He showed me the new phase that they just opened, because the other 37 acres are mostly sold out. I found out that I could talk about this with no emotional reservations, just being practical. The counselor gave me a tour of the cemetery.
During the tour, there were even moments when I almost started laughing out loud, because he was asking me questions if I had preferences of where we would like our plot. "Do you like one that is under a tree?" was one of those questions. "Would you like it on higher grounds?" "How about what type of lapida?". Wow, he even knows about lapida, although I suspected maybe it is the same word they have in Spanish, this gentleman being a Latino.
There were big signs all over the cemetery saying what is and is not allowed in the cemetery, like only fresh flowers and plants, no artificial flowers, no balloons, no whirligigs, etc., and yet on the way out, I found a lot of balloons and even whirligigs everywhere. And since this was close to Memorial Day, there were American flags all over. Another sign at the door said all decorations are taken down every Thursday, no exceptions. And that the place closes at 6:00 pm at this time of the year. I guess they will stay open later during summer.
Here is what it is in financial terms. The plot for two would cost around $8,900, including all basic arrangements at today's prices. If we are serious about it, we could put down ten percent, and the balance is payable in 60 monthly installments of $149 each. I forgot to ask about cremation.
I remember Edwin, our insurance agent, told me at one time that it is not a good investment to buy a plot. Things happen. Changes happen. Couples end up getting a divorce. Or moving out of town or even out of state. Children--whom you are considering in the location of the cemetery--might move out, too. To buy a certain plot now may not be the same one you would like to use later. On the other hand, of course, like anything else, in 60 months or five years from now, the basic cost of the plot would have gone up from $8,900.
The another way could be to save money for it. Set aside some savings for this purpose. I think this is what we ought to do. And include it in our Living Will where we want to be buried just in case.
While I was driving to work one morning this week, I thought of the business of dying again. It just dawned on me why human beings--the only animals in the kingdom--bury their dead. (Some cultures burn their dead.) Even way back in the beginning of human history, it is not because of religious reasons, although religion plays a role on how, but human beings bury their dead, because, you and I know it, decomposing bodies stink. We cannot just push it aside and endure the smell for months. Or we cannot just pick up and move residences. Or throw the body in the dump. Although, I would assume, some have done it.
As grim, or ghastly, or simply unpleasant as it may sound, death and dying produce some element of jokes themselves. And sometimes, it comes from the person who is facing it.
Several years ago, some distant relative told us about the conversation they had with their father who had a terminal illness. When they, together with the mother and other children, were discussing where he wanted to rest permanently, the son brought up a place he knew. The father said, "O, ang layo naman!" ("Hey, that place is far from here!"). To which the son replied: "Huwag na kayong mag reklamo, 'Tay. Hindi naman kayo ang mag da drive." ("Don't complain anymore, Dad, you are not going to do the driving.") They all had a good laugh about it. See what I mean?
Another friend told this story. When he and his divorced father were talking about cemetery plot, his father commented: "Pag nauna akong namatay, huwag nyong isasama sa aking pantion 'yung nanay mo. Kaya nga kami naghiwalay, mara malayo ako." ("I want a plot all to myself. If I die first, make sure your Mom gets her own when it is her turn. I didn't stay away from her for nothing.") Of course, he was just kidding, and years later, the mom--sure enough--was buried next to him.
Because I like writing, I even wrote my own eulogy. It may not have been done before. I call it AutoBiEulogy. Of course I did not praise myself or listed any of my accomplishments (because I could not think of any at the time). It is more of a poem, actually. I plan to pass it around at my wake, something my friends can remember me by. I also told my family which picture I want on top of my casket. It is the one taken when I was a teenager, in black and white, with me showing a sexy pose lying on the sand at the beach. I chose this because it provokes laughter all the time when visitors see it at our house.
And that is exactly what I want on my wake. My last party. I don't want people to cry at my funeral, with the exceptions of those I might owe money from. I want to celebrate my life not my death, with my families, relatives, and friends.
And if I survive them all? I guess I will just have to see them all later, and like a celebrity, make a grand entrance. In heaven or that other place.