Plotting the inevitable


While writing for Dairy Star, I have met many dairy farmers who want to leave the next generation a well-planned, successful and meaningful legacy through their farms. I am always impressed by that level-headedness because it takes courage to give careful thought to one’s inevitable death.

Sadly, I am no such planner. You could accurately say I am in denial of my eventual demise. Thank goodness my husband and I do not own a farm, or even a house any longer, because he can’t even get me to discuss where we will be buried someday.

I remember one day in the early 2000s when my parents dragged my sisters and me to the cemetery in our hometown to see their newly purchased tombstone at the plot they had paid for years before. I say dragged because I didn’t really want to see my parents’ names carved on what seemed to me like a welcome sign for the Grim Reaper. Afterall, I have my superstitions. If I have my plot and tombstone ready to go, will the universe say, “Well, she’s all set. Maybe she could leave a little early.” 

It took me many years before I was brave enough to list myself as an organ donor on my driver’s license.

As we stood around to admire my parents’ stone, Dad showed it off like he was Vanna White revealing a puzzle on “Wheel of Fortune.” Mom mentioned how classy and understated their tombstone was, not showy like some of the others in the vicinity of their plot. Dad pointed out the lush tree nearby, how he would be shaded after he kicked the bucket.  

On the back of their stone, they had included the words “parents of” with a list of my three siblings and me in order of age. It gave me the shivers to see my name on a tombstone. There for all to see was my formal name “Janice” instead of “Jan,” which really stunk.

As my sisters oohed and aahed over my parents’ selections, I stood back, wanting to bolt. They all thought I was being silly. Afterward, my parents insisted we go out to lunch to celebrate.  

I realize my folks were not unique. It seems to be the accepted practice to prepare one’s burial site oneself. Younger people are taking the step. My sister and her husband have their plot lined up.  

I remember seeing tombstones here and there while growing up where a spouse had died and the living spouse had his or her name engraved along with the deceased one, probably in an effort to save time later. Some had even put “19__” in the year-of-death spot so that only the last two numbers would need to be filled in upon their passing. I always wondered about that. Where was their faith in the advancement of medical science?  Humans were living longer and longer. Later, as the millennium approached, many still had unfilled blanks. I thought they better giddy up or face an extra charge for editing by sandblaster.  

My husband, Mark, remembers being in a field, harvesting corn with a few other family members, when his grandfather arrived with a tombstone in the back of his pickup, newly purchased and engraved. His grandpa was proud as heck, showing the stone to everyone there, recruiting his grandsons to help him unload it into his garage where he would keep it until needed. I wonder if, over time, it became dusty and neglected there like an unused sawhorse, a place to set paint rags or cans of WD-40.

It’s important to note that the universe did not take Mark’s grandpa sooner because of his preparedness. He was active and happy until he died at 92 years old.

A colleague at Dairy Star told me her grandparents were able to buy plots with her great-aunt and great-uncle a while back in a package deal with the plots aligning heads to heads. She told me there was a spirited discussion among the two couples as to which pair would face the sunrise and which would face the sunset. 

Perhaps my discomfort comes from fear of buyer’s remorse. After purchasing a plot and tombstone, what if I’d change my mind? What if the shady tree by my plot died of oak wilt and was cut down to an ugly, beetle-infested stump? What then? What if someone I secretly couldn’t stand bought the plot next door? I know I wouldn’t technically be there anymore, off to the great beyond and all … but still.  

Maybe cremation, followed by scattering, is the route for me.  

I like Larry Hagman’s idea. Remember him, the actor who played J.R. Ewing in “Dallas”? I once saw him interviewed on television. He said, when he died, he’d like to be cremated and sprinkled in a field on which his friends would grow and harvest wheat. They could make the wheat flour into a cake, and then “everybody could have a piece of Larry.” It’s a beautiful idea, in a creepy sort of way.

For me, I would just as soon have somebody else make the decisions – after I’m gone. I have great respect for those brave tombstone buyers, but I just can’t join their ranks. 

 It is only out of kindness for loved ones left behind that people plan and pay for these things ahead of time. I’m all for the paying part. I’ll gladly keep enough money set aside so my children don’t have to pay for my final resting place and any marker required, but isn’t that good enough? Can’t they step up and decide the rest? After all, I’m already supplying the corpse.  


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