Can you open the box?

Some day, you’ll probably end up being the person who makes
funeral arrangements for someone you care about.

This happened to me last Spring, when my friend
Bonnie Rogers
died.

There have been lots of books written about how the funeral
industry takes advantage of people in the first shock of their
grief and causes them to spend thousands or tens of thousands of
dollars they can’t afford. Some of them probably caused
improvements to happen, so that what happened to me was a fairly
mild version of what these books describe.

What happens is that you go to the funeral home the day after
the death happens and sign papers. They have asked you the big
questions on the phone (where’s the funeral, cremation or
burial…), and they have papers drawn up with what they think are
the standard things people want.

Of course you can argue about lots of the charges, but if your
loved one left enough money to cover the standard stuff, you
probably have lots of other things that you need to spend your
energy on at that time, and I recommend not worrying about whether
you’re spending a few hundred dollars more than you need to.

However, there is one question you should ask, which with 20/20
hindsight, I don’t see any way I could possibly have known that it
was important, and getting the right answer would have saved both
time and money.

One decision you have to make when you’re there signing the
papers is what kind of box to put the ashes in. They show you a
selection, and you point out that the ashes are being scattered so
paying for an objet d’art doesn’t make sense. So they
suggest a plain brass box, which costs more than you would think a
box that size would cost, but you’ve decided that arguing about
that kind of thing isn’t worth it.

So you get to the ash scattering event a month later. A dozen
friends who either want to support you through a difficult time,
or weren’t able to come to the funeral and really want a ceremony for saying goodbye
all get together at the spot you’ve picked and you sing some hymns
that got left off the list at the funeral and people read some
things they want to read. And you start to open the box, and
there’s no official way to open it. The dozen people collectively
have several Swiss Army knives, so eventually you get it pried
open without cutting large gashes in anyone’s hands and scatter
the ashes.

But you should have gotten the Funeral Director to tell you how
to open the box.

It could be worse — James Doohan, who played Scotty on Star
Trek wanted his ashes shot into space, and died before the
technology for that was perfected. His son gave an interview
about how difficult all the failed launches were for him to deal
with.

But we have had the technology for making boxes that stay
closed until you want to open them, and then open easily, for thousands of years, and
if you want to scatter ashes, you should make sure you’re buying
that technology.

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