Where the Author and his Family Put the “Fun” in “Funeral Arrangements.”
My wife and I accompanied my mother-in-law to help her make Auntie Phyl’s “final arrangements.” Auntie Phyl had been very specific in wanting a rented casket, not fancy urns, and a minimum of fuss. That seemed fine to me. It’s what I would want for myself, except that I want my ashes scattered via catapult. I guess I should have asked her if she wanted that too before she died.
Funeral homes suck. And not just for the normal reasons like the fact that they are full of dead bodies, or that you are only ever there when someone died (or unless your social life has taken a steep dive lately). There is something about them that just gives me the willies. It’s like the designers wanted to make a place where “fun” or “happiness” or “joy” is checked at the door by a big guy in a black suit.
Wood panelling and paisley wallpaper? Yep. Deathly silence made by the careful application of soundproofing material. Check. A big oak clock that chimes the hour, half-hour, quarter hour, five minute increments, and ever time that the hands pass the number 8? Done. Richly carpeted floors so that the offensiveness of your living footfalls is suitably muted? Oh yeah.
We were taken down to the torture room – sorry, the “conference room” – by a man in (surprise!) a black suit. He had the look of someone that did not see much sun. His skin was pink and his eyes were the pale blue of several generations of cousins marrying. He ran us through the various options (“The Gold Death Package has everything in the Silver Package plus four hours of intercessory prayer by our in-house monk, and an upgrade to the red-sticker coffins (but not the ‘Crate-Brand Grand Marquis Stretch,’ of course.”), gave us all the relevant documents to sign (“This one proves that she is dead to the Ontario Government. This one proves that she is dead to the Federal Government. This one proves that she is dead to the Ministry of Transportation. And this one cancels her subscription to the large-print edition of Reader’s Digest.”), and then he opened up “The Showroom.”
The showroom was a windowless room deep in the bowels of the funeral home. It was lined with coffins and urns, each one exorbitantly priced when one considers that they would all be either buried in mud, burned to ash, or sitting on a mantel where they will inevitably be knocked down, broken and spilled everywhere, and unceremoniously vacuumed up.
The coffins all had catchy names, like “The Majestic” (solid, dark-stained cherry, brushed-nickel hardware) or “The Last Supper” (walnut with silver panels that featured embossed images of – you guessed it – DaVinci’s masterpiece). You could, however, just get a plain pine box (“The Poorly Endowed”) or even particleboard with rope (“The Unassuming”). I personally liked that last one. It had a very Ikea feel to it, like you would get it from the home in a flat-pack box, and it would have an allen key in it.
We opted to rent a casket, as per Auntie Phyl’s wishes.
“Okay,” the torturer – sorry, funeral director – told us, “but I do need to tell you that this box may have been used before and it may be used again after Phyllis has used it.”
“This box,” he repeated, his voice dry as the dust between a mummy’s toes, “may have been used before and it may be used again after Phyllis has used it. I am obliged to tell you this.”
How the hell else does a rental system work?
I can only assume that this was a liability thing that the home put in place after accidentally putting two people in one rental casket (the infamous “Head to Toe” incident).
Part 3: Where the Author and His Family Partake in the Age-Old Rituals of Sitting With the Body and Eating Egg-Salad Sandwiches with the Crusts Cut Off to Make Them Look Dainty but Really Just Resulting in Egg-Salad Falling Out the Sides Which is Really Quite Gross