When I lived in suburban Philadelphia, I frequently drove into the city through Fairmont Park along East River Drive, which hugs the east bank of the Schuylkill River. A section of the drive is immediately adjacent to Laurel Hill Cemetery, a national historic landmark with large granite mausoleums and above ground burial crypts overlooking the Schuylkill River. Every time I passed, I smiled to myself and thought, “I’ll bet those jokers paid a premium price to be buried with a river view.”
Now, my supposition is confirmed. The burial business today is a combo of the real estate adage, Location, Location, Location, with the modern addition of Amenities, Amenities, Amenities.
A recent front page article in the Sun Sentinel, the Fort Lauderdale newspaper to which I subscribe, was titled
Seeking luxury after death? Many who prosper
during life want fancier digs in the hereafter.
The article details the current move among the affluent (or the guilt ridden) to assure their loved ones rest comfortably in death. The head of the local cemetery association said, “Most people don’t do it for a status symbol...they want to make sure their families can visit them comfortably.... They want their afterlife to be the same as their life on earth.” So, in South Florida your mausoleum, for a price, can not only be a marble and granite wonder, but fresh flowers can be delivered weekly, and it can be air-conditioned. After all, what self-respecting man or woman would want to consign a loved one to an eternity of heat? I can see the New Yorker cartoon now with a caricature of the devil at the entry to the flaming abyss directing entrants to the peasants quarters or to an air conditioned inferno suite.
This is in marked contrast to my personal plans for departure. My partner, Howard, and I have each purchased membership in the Neptune Society, one of several national companies that offer prepaid cremation services. The contract is guaranteed within fifty miles of home but for an extra charge the guarantee extends worldwide. Neptune will pick up my body, incinerate it and return the ashes to home base. They will also incorporate your ashes into a concrete block which they install as a part of a reef off the Florida coast for an additional charge. The thought of my ashes feeding the fish was initially attractive but the added tab of the reef option was steep enough that I decided instead to have a friend rent a boat and go feed the fish periodically in my memory.
Like life insurance, cremation or burial insurance, is something I invest in with the hope of never using it. I don’t particularly want to receive the benefits that I’ve purchased. However, what I do have in the here and now is a lovely deep chocolate color lacquered box with a bunch of Neptune Society info and freebies inside. It’s perfect on my desk to elevate my computer screen seven inches and save me from becoming the Hunchback of Dell, Inc.
But I really find the money and concern that go into worrying about what happens to your remains when you’re dead ironic and laughable. When you’re dead, you’re dead. The river view and the air-conditioning don’t make one less dead. My aunt Edith—actually, she was the third wife of my father’s second cousin, but in a small family she was accorded aunt status—had a major concern before her death. Who would deliver the eulogy at her funeral? She didn’t care for the new pastor at her church. She was more certain about who she didn’t want to eulogize her, than who she did.
“Edith,” I implored. “When you’re dead, you’re dead. You won’t even be there to hear him preach. Your remaining bones and skin won’t care who the preacher is.”
“But I care,” she smiled. “And I’ll rest more peacefully if I know it isn’t that new guy.”
That must be the rationale in the minds of those who choose final funereal frills like marble mausoleums, air conditioned columbariums, pyramids (ala Tut), or a glass enclosure of the sarcophagus (ala Stalin). They will face death more easily knowing that their remains will be maintained in luxury. They refuse to recognize that “He who dies with the most toys is nonetheless dead.”
The creative force, whatever form you care to assign, must have a sense of humor that encompasses the universe. How else could the foolishness of the created be tolerated? When I was a child, I was told that the sound of thunder was God bowling. What I heard was the bowling pins in heaven falling. As an adult, I no longer believe that bowling business.
Now I know that thunder is really God’s belly laugh when another troop of earthly transients pass through the pearly gates looking for their air-conditioned suite. Oh, and please St. Peter, don’t forget the fresh linens daily.
John Siegfried, a former Rehoboth resident, lives in Ft. Lauderdale. Email John Siegfried