Urn Baby Earn… Planning Ahead


Nora Ephron is famous for saying, “Everything is copy.” She never failed to amuse as she told stories from her own life. Oh, how I wanted a direct channel to her off center view of the world yesterday. It was one of a kind.

On a dreary late fall Seattle day the cold, wet, gray weather seemed just right as M and I headed into the city to prepay our own cremation expenses. Macabre?  Sure, but the responsible adult living somewhere deep within me told me it would be smart to take care of business, clean up the mess, tie up loose ends, and make it easy for the kids. Nevertheless, all the way to the destination I kept thinking it was perfect material for a Nora Ephron-like piece. The woman who wrote “I Feel Bad About My Neck” would surely find plenty to work with in prepaying for her own cremation.

When you’re closer to the end than the beginning it’s time to take inventory, and though it is that time and the smart thing to do there’s still something creepy about tinkering around with your own death. What’s definitely right about all of this prepaid business is that it’s no fun to be on the other end, no pun intended, and suddenly be responsible for the arrangements when a parent dies.

I know what it’s like to fly into town and be confronted by the myriad tasks and arrangements that need to be made. What did he/she want? Should there be a memorial service, a celebration of life, a viewing, a wake, when and where, cremation or burial, death certificates, is there a will, where is it, what does it say, was there anything about organ donations, obituary, who gets notified, etc.?

So, in that spirit and acknowledging a visceral hatred of morticians and other agents in death’s sales force, we did some research. My friend Pat Kile’s husband, David, is a retired minister so I called David for advice. I told him we didn’t want the deluxe pewter coffin with French silk and Belgian lace. We didn’t want the clergyman in the black suit who didn’t know us or the chorus of professional mourners singing Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Rather, we wanted a quick cremation and a cardboard box for the ashes.

Where could we get what we wanted and avoid the sales pitch? David delivered. People’s Memorial is the death industry’s TJ Maxx. For less than a grand we get picked up and delivered to the Co-op Funeral Home (of People’s Memorial). We get “sheltering and refrigeration.” Not sure what “sheltering” is or about the refrigeration part since I’m a California boy at heart and hate to be cold. Nevertheless, that’s part of the package. Then it’s burn baby burn. When that’s done the ashes go in this tasteful plastic container and cardboard box ready for pick up by our next of kin.


But wait; there’s more. Like the TV guy selling Vegematics at 2 a.m. there is more. No, not a carrot peeler or potato masher but the basic cremation package does include 5 certified copies of the Death Certificate, complimentary carbon offsets to equal the carbon dump of the burn, a complimentary tree planted in honor of the deceased (me/us), and payment of the King County Medical Examiner tax, plus 9.6% sales tax. Not bad, eh?

Well, here’s where we had second thoughts; in addition to the honorable service we were providing our children, we needed to get this done within the three months in order pick up 70,000 miles on our Delta Platinum American Express card. That’s enough for a roundtrip to Europe. Bingo! Great idea! Death benefits and free travel in the same package.

I’m afraid our travel plans shocked Kimberly, the very nice young woman who was helping us. She kept smiling as we celebrated our dual conquests – prepaid death benefits and a free flight to Europe. Unfortunately, she said, People’s Memorial only takes Visa or MasterCard – no American Express. Huge disappointment, as The Donald would say. Great idea but no cigar. We ended up putting our post-death benefits on a Visa card and collecting 2000 points – far from the roundtrip fare to Europe we planned on but a nudge in that direction.

Too bad we didn’t earn those 70,000 points for the burn and urn, but I’ve had my eye on an Italian espresso machine complete with a full compliment of bells and whistles. We’re going to Europe one way or another and if it means buying the Ferrari of espresso machines to get there, so be it. We’re definitely not going to let Delta wrangle us out of our travel perks this time – like they did in 1991 when I got screwed out of my pension and travel benefits because Delta pushed Pan Am into bankruptcy.

RIP Pan Am. I’m not in a hurry to join you in the boneyard but when I do it’s all prepaid. Cheers.


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