In my last post, I told you how my mom finally managed to die. Now I’ll tell you how I managed to bury her.
Unlike the last post, this one will be kinda funny. Or maybe you’ll think it’s really, really sad.
Fortunately for me, way back in 1994, my father uncharacteristically decided to dabble in real estate and bought cemetery plots for him and my mom. This was in North Lauderdale, Florida, a vast wasteland of strip malls, fast food places, streets the width of the Hudson River, and homes the size of a child’s playhouse.
My dad died in 2005, and the one time we brought my mom to visit him, the cemetery person took us to his site in a cart that they unceremoniously drove over the other graves as if they were off-roading in a Jeep commercial. My wife and I still remember the experience: “Babump, babump.”
Anyway, the morning after mom passed (she died just after midnight), I called the place. They had been contacted by the nursing home and they had already picked up her body. The funeral home guy–Jeffrey was his name–asked me when I would like to schedule the service.
Trying not to sound crass, I explained that no service was necessary, as there was no one I could invite. All of mom’s friends were equally deceased (I assumed) and no family members lived in the area. I did not say that the only reason I was even going to come was that my wife and daughter thought I should.
“So you just want a graveside service?” Jeffrey asked.
“No. No service. No rabbi. It’s just me.”
“Um, okay,” Jeffrey said, and we scheduled a serviceless burial for 1:30 the next day. Then there was a pause in the discussion and I heard some computer keys clicking before Jeffrey continued. “Now I see here that everything was prepaid back in–wow–1994. But we no longer have that model of casket.”
Of course not, I thought. Casket models must change every few years because … why exactly? Are there fashion trends in coffin styles? Is it like car models, where they improve the aerodynamics or update the technology (adding Bluetooth, perhaps)?
“Is there an equivalent model?” I asked, and then, sensing an upsell attempt coming on, I added, “She wouldn’t want something showier than my father’s.” My conversation with Jeffrey concluded with my purchase of $90 worth of death certificates. Then he emailed me a half dozen or so forms to Docusign, which I did after reading them with only slightly more attention to detail than I would an Apple user agreement.
About an hour later, someone named Angelo called. Whereas Jeffrey was in charge of the funeral home, Angelo was in charge of the actual cemetery that was behind the funeral home as if it was a large and uninviting backyard. Angelo wanted to know how many people would be attending the service. “Just me,” I reiterated. Then we discussed the engraving on the headstone. “Do you want it to be similar to your dad’s?” Angelo inquired. I asked him what dad’s marker said and he helpfully emailed me a photo. It was a double-wide, with my dad’s inscription on one side and a blank area on the other.
Evidently, mom and dad would be sharing a headstone. Unfortunately, if I remember correctly, mom always slept on the right side.
I emailed Angelo some similarly-worded copy for my mom’s half of the marker. Angelo called again. “So that’s 38 characters at $15 per character. That’s $570, but there’s a $195 processing fee once it goes over $500.”
“Well, hold on,” I said. “I’m a copywriter. I can edit.” Not that I’m particularly cheap, but that processing fee bothered me. However, while I was deciding if I really needed “beloved,” Angelo said he’d cut me a break and we somehow settled on my original draft for $495.
The next day, I took a 7am flight down and drove to the cemetery, which was just as I remembered it from that one time we visited my dad: a virtually treeless, totally charmless expanse dotted with flat, gray rectangles. Except for all the pinwheels. There were little pinwheels throughout the cemetery. Because what’s a cemetery without festive pinwheels?*
I met Jeffrey’s assistant who escorted me into a large room where mom’s equivalent model coffin was on display with her modeling it. I had to identify her to ensure that they did not bury the wrong person, which, hopefully, is not a common occurrence. She looked better than the last time I had seen her a couple of weeks earlier, and certainly more alert.
Then they gave me a swag bag, just like the ones stars get at award shows, but with “Thank you for your sympathy” cards instead of, you know, Cartier watches. There was also a dozen personalized graveside service programs (“Really,” I said, “it’s just me.”); a large yahrzeit candle (“Yeah, uh, no, I won’t be taking that on the plane.”); and a schedule for lighting the candle through the year 2041, after which I imagine they’re assuming someone would be lighting one for me.**
“I also have this packet of dirt for you,” the assistant said, holding up the small bag. “To put in the grave. It’s from Israel.”
“No, the dirt.”
I was aware, of course, of the Jewish tradition of tossing dirt on a coffin after it is lowered into the grave. But I didn’t know it was supposed to be imported. Since nobody in my mother’s family going back generations was from Israel or had even visited Israel, I figured that, if I wanted to get my hands dirty, I could use domestic dirt.
Following her instructions, I got into my rental car and trailed the hearse down a path through the cemetery until it stopped at what I guessed from the program to be The Garden of Ruth although, frankly, I think Ruth should ante up for a better landscaper. Two guys were waiting with a cart, onto which they loaded the coffin and rolled it to the grave site. “Babump, babump.”
There were two rows of folding chairs set up (“Really, it’s just me.”), but I stood as they lowered mom into the ground. I took pictures so my wife and daughter would know I attended.
“Do you want to say anything?” they asked me.
I didn’t, but I thought, “Bye, mom, I hope you can finally get some peace.”
See you soon.
*I looked it up when I got home: “First appearing on the graves of children, pinwheels now can be seen on the graves of adults. The continual movement suggests constancy, perhaps of affection. The wind which propels the tiny mills evokes the spirit.” So I guess cemetery pinwheels are a thing, but I’d never seen them at a New York cemetery. I wonder if they act like miniature wind turbines, generating electricity for, like, interior coffin lights.
**A yahrzeit candle burns for a day or so (unless you blow it out because, really, who wants an open flame in the house while you’re sleeping?). It’s supposed to be lit each year on the anniversary of a Jewish person’s death date, except it ends up being a different date every year because the Hebrew calendar doesn’t line up with ours. They also come in handy during power outages.