No one likes to be reminded of his mortality, which probably explains why I flinch every time the mail includes an advertisement for cremation. I used to get the same heebie-jeebies driving through southern Florida years ago when an alarming number of billboard ads were for funeral parlors.
But facts are facts: Everyone's number eventually comes up. That's why the Bay Area Funeral Consumers Association wants you to prepare for the inevitable. The wealth of information on the nonprofit's website ranges from the, umm, deadly serious to the morbidly amusing.
Did you know, for instance, that you could arrange a "green" burial, using simple, biodegradable containers, with no embalming or concrete grave liners and simple grave markers. I think this is what the pioneers did. Sounds perfect for Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and her fellow Green Party members:
"Green burial allows humans, who have drawn sustenance throughout their lives from the bounty of the earth, to contribute their earthly remains to the continuation of that bounty."
What's to be done with the ashes from a cremation?
"If desired, the cremains can be stored at home in the container in which they were received ... We heard of one person who had the ashes put into her mother's favorite cookie jar."
If you do this, tell your mother first -- unless the cremains are hers.
The Bay Area FCA is an affiliate of a national organization -- the Funeral Consumers Alliance -- that urges people to spell out their last wishes in advance. The organization offers for sale a publication ("Before I Go") that lists the questions surviving family members will want answered.
Where's your will? Who's your attorney? What are your assets? Do you have insurance? Burial or cremation? Open casket or closed? Private service or public? Do you own a cemetery plot? What about grave markers -- upright, monument or flat?
The 30-page, spiral-bound "Before I Go" booklet, which can be yours for $15 -- "makes a great stockings stuffer," the website says -- forces you to answer questions that might otherwise be left to guesswork. (Just the same, I hope this isn't what my daughter gives me for Christmas.)
Who should speak at your ceremony? What readings do you prefer? How about musical selections? Flowers or donations?
The manual also asks for information to be included in your obituary. Where were you educated? How were you employed? What were your hobbies, interests and achievements? You're even invited to write your own obit. (I had to do this when I worked at another newspaper. It was some of my most creative writing.)
Interspersed throughout the pages of "Before I Go" are some amusing illustrations. The title page shows a raven perched atop a headstone, perhaps to put readers in a no-nonsense mood. Several pages later are three befuddled-looking men, searching bookshelves and a closet, probably trying to find someone's "Before I Go" booklet. In a section dedicated to "body disposition," a mustachioed corpse is shown in an open casket, bewilderment on his face. The dark angel must have sneaked up on him.
Maybe the illustrations are meant as comic relief. Preparing for death is sort of morbid stuff.
But, hey, it needs to be done. So I'll excuse myself. I need to check my mail in case there are any cremation deals.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.