On a recent visit to the cemetery where my parents are buried, I was reminded of a bothersome fact: I have yet to choose my final resting place.
I’ve given it thought. I know I should deal with it. But as that old song says:
I suppose a part of me doesn’t want to think about it, because if you don’t think about your death, you can believe you won’t have one.
But I know that’s silly. When it comes to burials, you need to, well, plot. My parents, when they were younger, purchased gravesites in Florida where my father’s parents were interred. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
But when my mother died, she and my father were living in California.
“Dad,” we said, “how will you ever go visit Mom if she’s buried across the country?”
He relented, so we scrambled to find a plot in the area. It’s the last thing you want to do when you are grieving a lost loved one. And yet there we were, touring a cemetery, walking down a hill, trying to pick a lovely spot for Mom while wiping away tears.
Now I lay me down to rest.
Ashes to ashes, dust to … soil?
I wonder how many of you are facing this issue? Do you delay, too? Are we all procrastinators? What’s the right age by which to pick out your gravesite? How you want to be buried? And in what fashion?
The question, it seems, has gotten more complex. When I was growing up, options were few. There were a couple of cemeteries within reasonable distance. You died. You were buried in one of those.
But today, cremation has replaced burial as the most popular choice. In fact, the National Funeral Directors Association says by 2035, nearly 80% of Americans will be cremated.
Unless they’re composted.
Yes. Composted. Like coffee grounds, wood chips and dead leaves. This is the newest rage in states like Oregon, Vermont, Washington, California and Colorado, where, and we’re not making this up, human remains may now be composted.
I don’t know. I get people wanting to be environmentally conscious. But I’d like to imagine something more eternal than fertilizer.
Cremation, the more popular (and less expensive) option, is certainly a viable choice for many. But you still have the issue of “where?” In an urn? In a columbarium? On the mantle? Scattered to the wind?
There’s always freezing. Cryogenics is a real thing. I could be buried in a cannister, hanging upside down, awaiting a future, centuries from now, when I could be thawed out and theoretically brought back to life.
But who would I know? Who would I hang out with? Everything would be so completely different, except for the Lions losing.
Come, stay a while
So no thanks to freezing, composting or having my ashes scattered over the ocean. My luck, a breeze would blow at precisely the wrong time and I’d end up on someone’s beach umbrella.
Sue me. I’m old-fashioned. I’d like a funeral, a grave and a marker. Which takes me back to picking a place. I grew up in one part of the country, but have lived in many others. My immediate family lives in other states. And, being married, my first loyalty is to my wife, who is from Michigan.
So where to lay me down? There’s a lovely cemetery in the town where I live, and I suppose it makes sense to plan your eternal rest near to where you endured your eternal struggle.
But why haven’t I pulled the trigger? What’s stopping me? Is it the idea that once I commit, it’s sort of like the Army? There’s no turning back?
Or do I think there are more chapters to come? Places yet to be discovered? I once went to New Zealand and took a helicopter ride to a mountain lake that you could only reach by landing on it. The setting was incredibly serene. The colors were amazing. It was as quiet as the most isolated part of heaven.
“Wouldn’t this be a great place to be buried?” I asked the people with me.
“Yeah, sure,” they said. “If you don’t want anyone to visit.”
And I guess, when it’s all said and done, that’s what will make my decision. Even dead, I’d still like some company. Where would those I love have the best chance to come by for a spell?
My old professor Morrie Schwartz — the Morrie of “Tuesdays With Morrie” — asked me, in his final days, to come visit him at his grave after he died. He wanted me to bring a blanket, pack a lunch, and come talk to him. About life. My problems. The world.
“Talk to you? I said.
“Just like were talking now,” he said.
“But, Morrie, it won’t be like we’re talking now. Because you won’t be able to talk back.”
He looked at me as if I were very naïve.
“Well, Mitch,” he said. “I’ll make you a deal. After I’m dead, you talk, I’ll listen.”
Such a lovely idea. I think, in the end — and I mean the end — I will choose a place that has less to do with me and more to do with those who might come by. I want to make it welcoming. I’m still not sure where that will be. But it won’t be a pile of fertilizer.
Who wants to visit that?