Sometimes the internet, as does life, works in mysterious ways. Recently and out of the blue and unrequested by me, one of my long-ago hometown newspapers began to email me weekly summaries of local obituaries.
As someone who has been forced to scramble to keep up with the ever-changing business modes and moods of our digital age, I tried but failed to figure out any commercial purpose behind this move. Granted, I look in on paper’s website from time to time, but the answer to my question eluded me. And even as I write, my phone alerts me to yet another obit edition. Nobody I know died last week. I checked.
But it usually gets down to money and I’ve been living more than 7,000 miles away for many decades, making me or my family unlikely customers for undertaking services in Wisconsin, or whatever politically correct title funeral homes apply to what they do these days.
Unlike, I used to think, the majority of Americans who have been conditioned to open up their wallets without question to plant their loved one in a fancy box, I grew up in a family that was pretty skeptical about this practice, both regarding cost and good taste.
I have distinct memories of the first truly fancy funeral I ever attended, at least by small town American standards. My paternal grandmother went out in style and to my young eye, probably considerable expense. Given a few overheard conversations between mom and dad, they didn’t much approve but were on the hook for a chunk of this display which had been arranged by a pretty high-handed aunt.
Over the years I heard the folks complain about the waste of space taken up by cemeteries and later discovered and read Evelyn Waugh’s hilarious novel on the subject, “The Loved One,” and also saw the 1965 movie with, among others, Robert Morse and Jonathan Winters. Those who know will note that the screenplay was by the long gone but truly lamented Terry Southern.
So let’s say that as age has been creeping up on me, I’ve been aware that some decision will have to be made about how to handle my eventual demise, though I’m not looking for anything that involves a marble-trimmed walnut box.
While living on Saipan, some friends carried out several funerals at sea, in which the loved one was encased in a weighted body bag, loaded on a fishing charter boat and taken out to sea for a trip down to the Marianas Trench. This of course required copious provisions containing alcohol. By accounts I heard, a good time was had by all the survivors.
Cremation was the choice of my parents and I know where to find them, on a hillside in the country, beneath modest stones provided by the Veterans Administration marking their World War II service. Money wasn’t the issue for them, but they had no taste for ostentation.
We’re often told that public tastes are changing in this area and the Washington Post recently alerted me to another option with a headline about Washington State: “Washington passes bill to become first state to compost human bodies.”
“We’re making about a cubic yard of soil per person,” the founder of the company Recompose said,” according to the Post. The company also makes arguments about saving energy, expense and even making a dent in global warming. This bill is as yet unsigned by the state governor, but though unlike my father, I’ve never been much of a gardener, it sounds pretty appealing.
As the 1662 version of the “Book of Common Prayer” tells us in its version of the burial service:
“Then, while the earth shall be cast upon the Body by some standing by, the Priest shall say,
“Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.”
I’m even willing to sustain a cucumber in your garden. Or a rose.
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Bruce Lloyd is a longtime journalist