We are all born with a death sentence on our heads and though we understand this from a very young age, we spend our entire lives trying to ignore it and pretend it won’t happen.
Scientists are frantically searching for the immortality pill as they come up with all kinds of anti-ageing potions and lotions. Ageing is another thing we cannot avoid.
While we build up our fantasy fortress of denial, there comes a time we have to face facts and make a plan.
I remember the absolute horror and despair I felt when my mother first started talking about her demise – wasn’t she going to be around forever? Didn’t we have some kind of get-out-of-death-free card?
NOT A PRETTY PICTURE IN SIGHT
I’ve been fortunate enough not to have had to deal with the death of many loved ones.
My Granny died when I was 10 and, while it was extremely sad, I didn’t have to deal with any of the grisly details. My family isn’t big on funerals so I don’t remember going to Granny’s. It’s possible she donated her body for research – that’s a big thing in our family.
I was nearly 40 before I went to my first funeral and that was more for support for someone else.
Then a dear friend’s husband died and I got a close view of the process of planning a funeral. I went with my friend to the funeral home and watched in horror as the staff, in the very subdued and calm manner they all seem to have, gently handed my friend a photograph album full of coffin pictures.
A photograph album! That’s where you put your pictures of your babies to show off to others – not coffins.
I’m not really sure what I expected, seeing as the whole reason we went was to choose a coffin, but it has become a memory that haunts me still.
It made me start to think about death – not mine, I don’t have to worry about that because I won’t be here, but loved ones. It made me wonder how on earth I would cope if I had to organise death details for someone I loved.
I secretly, fervently hope I beat everyone I care about into the spirit world so I can avoid this heartbreaking, heartless task.
THE DREADED DEATH TALK
But in the spirit of stepping out from my fantasy fortress and facing facts, I now listen when my mother wants to talk about her plan and her wishes – instead of talking over her and rejecting what she says.
When I see my own kids cringe when I bring up the subject of either one of their parents dying I figure they will be grateful to have a clear picture if what to do when the time comes.
My mother used to talk about getting a ‘graffiti’ coffin to be cremated in – a cardboard coffin we could all do artwork on.
The thought was pretty macabre to me (particularly since the plan was to store it at my house as she didn’t have the room) and I was still firmly entrenched in my fantasy fortress so forbade all mention of it.
Interestingly I discovered recently that these cardboard coffins are gaining in popularity – being much cheaper than their wooden cousins that go for thousands of dollars. You can get a basic cardboard coffin that meets all the regulatory requirements for Australia for around $700. Sounds like a bargain – especially if cremation is your choice.
If you want to go more upmarket and have a coffin with a mural or image it can cost up to $7000.
The article then went on to explain these coffins were a big improvement on past versions that had problems such as handles detaching and premature combustion at cremations.
Are you getting some pretty crazy pictures in your head now?
Further reading told me that it takes one and a half hours to cremate a body and the ashes will weigh around 2 kg – though this can vary depending on the size and density of the body’s bones.
I remember when I was a teenager my mother and some friends had a ceremony on Sydney Harbour to release a loved one’s ashes. Just at the point of ceremoniously emptying the urn into the ocean the, wind changed direction and they were all “covered in Molly”, to quote Mum.
Just like weddings, funerals attract a unique set of possible disasters, but a little bit of planning and talking can at least lessen the burden for those left behind.
It can also help ensure they do not get coerced into overspending when they are in a vulnerable emotional state.
According to COTA (Council on the Ageing) NSW, a no-frills cremation will cost around $2,600 but loved ones could end up spending more than $15,000 if they don’t have a clear idea of what’s expected.
PLANNING A FUNERAL
Things to consider when you are having that dreaded death talk are:
- Do you want to be buried or cremated?
- What kind of service, if any, do you want?
- Where do you want the service – church, graveside, crematorium?
- When do you want the service – before or after burial/cremation?
- What casket, container, urn do you want?
- Are there special songs, hymns readings you would like included in the service?
There are other options such as requesting donations to a charity instead of the traditional flower tributes.
I won’t wish you happy planning but have a gleeful week, Tamuria.