Lessons in Death & Dying

Cemetery B&W

If you sat down this morning to compose a job description for a parent, I suspect you would still be hunting and pecking at the keyboard come dinner time. Being a parent isn’t easy and trying to list the many duties would require volumes. But the job of teaching important things to their children, would have to be high on that list.

My Mother-in-Law has been in a nursing home for nearly three years. The progressive nature of Alzheimer’s reached some point where we had no option but to put her in a home where she could obtain the help that she required. She’s done much better in that environment than we could have imagined, but obviously it’s not the ideal situation.

She will turn 83 later this year, if she makes it that long, and we decided last week that the time had come to prepare for the inevitable outcome that faces us all. My wife and her sister spent time at a funeral home and the cemetery where their mother will be buried, and we pre-paid all her funeral expenses. Everything is taken care of from the casket to the headstone to the funeral service itself.

Death doesn’t come cheap. Naked we may come into this world and naked we may depart it, but everything in between will cost you dearly. While looking over the many fees and contracts, I realized this was another case of a parent teaching her children something important — the cost of death and dying in dollars and cents.

I’m happy to share it with you, we all need to make plans for the final journey that we all share.

Twenty-thousand dollars, if you want to be buried in a casket, in a cemetery, with a headstone and a funeral service. Cremation can be cheaper by half but don’t kid yourself, nothing about dying is inexpensive.

In our case, my wife’s mother already had a burial plot and concrete vault. Her and her husband bought those back in the 1970’s for less than a thousand dollars. Today, that would cost five thousand dollars. We chose a middle of the line casket that cost $3,800 and the headstone was another $2,500. Preparing the body was $2,500. The funeral service at the mortuary cost another $3,000 — that includes a basic amount of flowers, use of the facilities, and $250 set aside for the Baptist minister who will perform the funeral service.

In addition, $500 was set aside for moving the body from the nursing home or local hospital to the funeral home. This is actually a variable cost. We were able to pre-pay it because, given her situation, confidence is high she will either die in the nursing home or at the local hospital. The distance from there to the mortuary is fixed and known.

But suppose you died while on safari in Africa, the cost of getting your body back “home” might be tens of thousands of dollars just for transport.

Additional costs for moving the casket from the funeral home to the cemetery, a brief gravesite ceremony, opening and closing of the burial site rounded out the costs.

Like I said, parents teach their children important things and that didn’t end when my wife’s mother’s brain quit functioning properly. She’s still teaching us, only now it’s mostly about death, and how to die with as much dignity as that god damned disease will allow.

Important lessons. Necessary lessons. Valuable lessons.

Author: Jeff Davis