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Washington Voices

Planning ahead for final exit

Sat., Feb. 23, 2013

It’s not easy facing mortality. In fact, there’s nothing easy about confronting that final goodbye and for years, I’ve put it off with inventive excuses.

In my 20s I was immortal, of course. In my 30s I miraculously remained immortal. Then the 40s hit and, in what seemed like a flash, my 50s. Now I was invincible. It’s the journey, I told myself, not the destination.

During this head-stuck-in-sand period my in-laws signed their wills and declared all was set. Looking back, we should have delved deeper into the “all was set” statement because when my father-in-law died last January we discovered that although their wills had indeed been executed, not “all was set” where funeral arrangements were concerned.

We heard about funeral costs and when my mother-in-law called in tears, we braced for the shock and awe. She met with the funeral home, selected the lowest-priced plan and was quoted a price of $6,000. “For everything?” we asked in disbelief. “Everything,” she affirmed.

Looking back, we should have delved deeper into “everything” because grief begets confusion and my mother-in-law was knee deep in grief and up to her eyeballs in confusion. The funeral home’s quoted price was correct but that covered embalming, casket and viewing, not gravesite, burial, hearse and numerous incidental costs. By the time we arrived in California and despite every cost-cutting option, the final total was $18,000.

Death isn’t kidding. Neither are mortuaries, funeral homes, cemeteries and the various industries involved with the final farewell.

My father-in-law’s passing also brought mortality a tad closer. Now, as I edge toward my golden years, no amount of bartering, pleading or inventive excuses will stop the inevitable. It’s high time I take this death thing seriously, which brings me to movies.

I love movies. Particularly movies that hit buttons I never knew existed. One such film is “Last Holiday.” Georgia Byrd, a shy store clerk who saves money, lives quietly, and never steps outside the box, is given three weeks to live. She cashes in her stocks and takes a dream vacation. There are several great lines in this movie but the one that hit my button is the scene where she writes her burial wishes – “I spent my whole life living in a box. I don’t want to be buried in one.”

Call it age or acceptance, a decision was made and when mortality wagged its tongue at me again, instead of inventive excuses I had a decisive plan.

Which brings me to fate.

At times fate has a funny side. Within in a week after making our decision, a letter arrived from the Neptune Society. “That’s pushy,” I said to the fate powers that be. Fate’s response came over the airwaves because as I was opening the envelope, an advertisement for the company appeared on TV. I looked at the letter, then the screen. “Now that’s downright pushy,” I whispered. But I felt at peace. This decision was right.

Arrangements have been made for our last chapter – all is set. No fanfare, no embalming, no plot, no financial shock and awe and above all, no box. More importantly, our children won’t have to look back and say, “We should’ve delved deeper into the ‘all is set’ statement.”

I don’t like thinking about these things, and I sure don’t like writing about them. Life truly is all about the journey, not the destination, but no matter which carrier you choose, do yourself a favor … pack your bags before departure.

Email to Sandra Babcockat


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