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Funeral plan is a conversation starter

Marketplace Staff Oct 5, 2007

Funeral plan is a conversation starter

Marketplace Staff Oct 5, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: One small slice of the party that is Las Vegas will take on a slightly different tone this weekend… The National Funeral Directors Association will be having its annual convention there.

This year’s event features an Asia Funeral Expo, where those in the business can learn all about rituals of the Far East. You can also check out a workshop called Risk Reduction for Funeral-Cremation Providers.

Commentator Doug Cordell won’t be there — but he’s become a funeral planner just the same.

DOUG CORDELL: Recently, my mother and I began planning her funeral — or at least, we’ve been trying. She’s healthy, but just turned 90, so it’s not like we’re being hasty. And it was her idea.

Sitting me down in the TV room of her condo, she announced that she wanted to make her wishes known now, so there’d be no confusion… and no unscrupulous funeral director would take advantage.

Aside from the obvious mortality question, what makes conversations like these awkward are the financial considerations. My mother’s a child of the Depression, so money enters into everything. Me, I tell her: “Blow the bank. Get a marching band.” But that’s not her style.

She thinks even an ordinary funeral, with the flowers and the casket and the limousine, is a waste of money — money she’d rather pass on to her kids. “It’s a racket,” she says.

Lately, she’s been thinking about cremation; all her friends are doing it. She points out that none of us ever visits my father’s grave anyway, because it’s far away, in a run-down neighborhood — and because he’s not there, really.

That gets us sidetracked into a talk about my dad — how little thought he would’ve given to all this business, and how much we both still miss him after all these years.

We discuss scattering her ashes. She says there are charter outfits that will take your remains out to sea, but they probably charge a fortune. And what’s the point of scattering her ashes at sea? she wonders. She’s never even liked boats.

But if we toss them on land, should it be in Florida, where she lives now, or in New York, where she grew up? That leads us to her childhood in Brooklyn, and memories of watching her mother cook on Sunday afternoons. And as she shares them with me, I can easily see the little girl she once was.

The conversations meander, and we never arrive at any conclusions about funeral arrangements. But that doesn’t seem to be the point. It’s more about the meandering.

From time to time, my mother raises the topic again. We talk about various scenarios, and about not throwing money away. And then we talk about other things.

RYSSDAL: Writer Doug Cordell lives in New York City.

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