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Essay: Death and a dinner party

"One day we were talking about where to take the kids for a school vacation, and the next day we're talking about funeral plots." Photo illustration by: Craig Korn/ VeggieGraphics

Six close friends gathered at my birthday dinner and discussed death. Cemeteries, burial plots, and funeral arrangements, to be exact. Our funeral arrangements.

We laughed uncomfortably and made some jokes. In the end, though, the consensus was that we did not want our kids to get stuck making funeral arrangements at the traumatic moment of our deaths, as a couple of us had already had to do for our parents. No sir. We were prepared. Like so many of our generation, we opened college funds and created irrevocable trusts and carefully crafted wills. Now we could add prepaid funerals to that list.

Surprisingly, it was the youngest of us who brought up the subject of funerals.

“We bought our plots. Have you?” he asked out of the blue.

“Did you get singles?” my husband asked jokingly.

“It was cheaper to get a double,” was the serious answer.

Another friend chimed in. “Did yours include the service? Our package consists of two plots, one coffin (mahogany) and one service. But if the cost of the service rises by the time we die, our family will have to pay the difference.”

“Well, we can upgrade,” I bragged. “Ours are paid off, and we’re receiving checks because they’ve appreciated in value! It’s like collecting dividends.”

It seems that every time I open a newspaper, I read something about aging and dying. It is as if, without our permission, those of us over 45 have been morphed to senior-citizen status, putting us closer to the inevitable.

But how did it happen? The hands of the clock accelerated like some kind of crazy cartoon, and most of us didn’t notice. One day we were talking about where to take the kids for a school vacation, and the next day we’re talking about funeral plots.

I have become acutely aware of my age. It didn’t help that my AARP membership form appeared in the mail the day after my 50th birthday. I even admit that I sometimes surreptitiously read the obituaries and am thrilled when there’s no one under 60 years old on the list.

On the same pages, of course, are the advertisements for cemeteries. One offers flat, level plots with, of all things, views! It calls this special area Canaan and offers doubling up with your spouse-double interment, it’s called-and they stress that it’s a “limited time offer.” Limited by what, I wonder.

Of course, you can buy your casket online at Costco or, or you can order one emblazoned with the logo of your alma mater. What’s next? Plots bought up in blocks like airline tickets and auctioned on eBay?

As we neared the end of dinner, I was reminded of one more important subject.

“Let’s not forget,” I warned my friends, “that cemeteries are the easy part. There’s still long-term care insurance to consider. My insurance agent says the prices go up dramatically with our age.”

Here and now, at mid-life, my husband and I have to make a choice: nursing home or home health care. We have our plots, but we better decide soon about this insurance — while we’re still “pre-need.”

The merry waiters gathered at our table to deliver the birthday dessert, a few of them too young to worry about the future beyond the next week. As they harmonized “Happy Birthday,” I stared at the one glowing candle on the huge chocolate birthday cake. It’s a sign, I decided as I sucked in my breath — a signal for me to relax and take the rest of my days one candle at a time.

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