When Eddie and I were first married, I routinely updated instructions for my funeral. I wasn’t thinking about suicide, homicide, or accidental death. No, as a newly ordained pastor officiating at funerals and graveside services, I was noticing how people are laid to rest. I wanted my final wishes known.
“Honey, please don’t let anyone put anything inside my casket.” No John Deere tractor toys, pink stuffed animals, baseball caps, or color snapshots placed around my body as though I were a mannequin on display. I’ve a pretty firm sense of personal boundaries that I’d like honored even after I’m dead. I don’t want someone else’s idea of a shared memory tucked between me and the casket liner. I’d nix a viewing altogether if it weren’t for Ed.
There’s no reason to go overboard on funeral expenses. A simple pine coffin will suit me just fine. Forget the expensive hardwoods, fine veneers, and semi-precious metals , not to mention rust resistant stainless steel. Why be buried in something that is designed to resist air, water, and other natural elements if my body is supposed to decay?
I worry that Ed, in his grief, might cave on a sentimental add-on, like an embroidered tribute panel, keepsake drawer, or– worse yet — multicolor, three-dimensional angels to be attached on each coffin corner. This “lifestyle design,” as it’s known in funeral speak, appears to confuse family members. I’ve seen the what-the-hell-are-we-supposed-to-do-with-this look on their faces when handed a leaping trout, bald eagle, mallard duck, or mountain landscape that’s been removed from a coffin at graveside.
I trust I don’t have to warn Ed against the airbrushing of religious symbols, screaming fighter jets or NASCAR logos on the coffin exterior. But he might be tempted to order a photo of our golden retriever, Parker, with Maggie, our black lab. He knows how much I love them.
The words of the Christian interment service, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, earth to earth,” ring hollow whenever I speak them above the depths of a concrete burial vault. How can the remains of my body co-mingle with the earth if they’re sealed inside?
“Honey, I’ve decided I want to be cremated.” If Ed dies before me, my ashes can be buried later, alongside him in his plot. If he dies after me, they can place my ashes inside his coffin. We’ve agreed to leave the complications of re-marriage to God.
So far, Ed has been accommodating of my requests. Yet I have learned that he has one non-negotiable. When I mention flowers, how wasteful it seems to leave them wilting at the cemetery, I learn that he has one non-negotiable. He wants the ribbon on my flowers to read “Precious.” Since it’s one of his final wishes, how can I refuse?
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.