Long before her death, my mother had prepaid a company for both her cremation and burial at sea. (You can read about that burial here.
Before my mother's last illness and death, I'd never thought about making one's own burial arrangements before they are needed. But it was a big relief to me that she had done it, that I didn't need to figure it out and I was deeply grateful for her foresight.
Over the years since then, I've come to believe that doing so is – well, the polite thing to do. Loved ones have enough on their hands just with grieving and in the event that burial was never discussed, there is no question what the deceased wants if he or she has bought and paid for it.
Some people have some pretty funny (to me) ideas about how they want their remains dealt with. You can read about some weird and interesting burials of famous people here and Gizmodo has images of a bunch of coffins in unexpected shapes that you can actually buy.
Although it amuses me to know that someone wants to be buried in a coffin shaped like a dumpster or a gym bag (to each his own), earlier this week The New York Times reported on a phenomenon that seems bizarre, even ludicrous: ordinary people deliberately purchasing their plot next to a famous dead person:
”...it is a different kind of hero worship, and puts a new twist on the real estate cliché location, location, location,' writes James Barron.
“It could be the ultimate form of devotion, putting yourself closer to someone you admired than you ever were in life — especially if the only words you ever spoke to a favorite celebrity were 'Can I have your autograph?' or 'Can I take a selfie with you?' — or it could be the ultimate way to elevate oneself. You may not be famous, but proximity to someone who was could bestow some prestige.”
This would be funny if it were not sad – that you think so little of yourself that you want to bask in the reflected glory of a famous person even in death.
Or, maybe it's one way to make it easier for loved ones to find your grave in a crowded cemetery: “Turn left at James Dean and walk a little further until you see Buddy Holly. I'm right next to him.”
Barron reports that it's not cheap to buy a plot next to a celebrity:
”A crypt above Marilyn Monroe's in a cemetery in Los Angeles had a winning bid of $4.6 million on eBay in 2009. The owner, a widow who wanted to pay off the $1 million mortgage her husband had left behind, moved his remains 23 years after he had been buried there.”
Jazz fan Pauline Smith is arranging to be buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Los Angeles near Duke Ellington and Lindy hop creator Frankie Manning:
“'Who knows what life is after death?' said Ms. Smith, a retired teacher who is 74 and lives in New Rochelle, N.Y. 'Not knowing what it is, I want to enjoy the thing that brings the most joy to me in my life right now, so I want to be close to them.'”
Have you thought about your burial arrangements - or have you made them?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Old