29 Apr Comedy is Easy, Dying is Hard
I don’t want to be buried in Jersey,” my husband quipped the first time I said we needed an exit plan. Though I’d always enjoyed Martin’s humor, I needed him to take this seriously.
“Where would you like to be?” I asked.
“Here,” he answered. “I plan on staying alive.”
“I love our apartment too,” I said. “But the staff doesn’t do embalming.”
Long before the internet, I decided to check out caskets so called a company’s 800 number. When their photos arrived, Martin wouldn’t look at them, saying, “Just put me in a pine box.”
“You shopped for weeks before choosing a guitar case,” I said. “This is far more important. What do you think of ‘the Harrison’?” I held up the glossy shot of a bronze casket .
“Those aren’t Jewish caskets,” he said. I called again and a second batch of photos arrived. A feminist, now I had a problem. “There’s no Miriam, no Esther, no Leah,” I complained to the company. “And what about Sarah? She gave birth at 90. Naming a casket after her would be the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award.” They had none.
How or where I ended up meant surprisingly little to me. Though the tradition was to be buried, some Jewish friends had recently been cremated, perhaps because it’s cheaper and thought to be more environmentally sound. What I cared about most was having the matter resolved.
Martin’s father was buried in Israel on the Mount of Olives, not far from Menachem Begin. My parents were in Los Angeles, close enough to Al Jolson’s monument to hear him should he ever start singing “Mammy.” Hoping to lure Martin into preplanning, I asked, “Would you want to be in Brooklyn with Sinclair Lewis and Leonard Bernstein?” He shook his head. “How about Queens with Harry Houdini?”
Time passed before I came up with another idea. I’d been designing mosaic items and after finishing a pet urn, it occurred to me that if Martin and I were cremated, I could make a special memorial for us.
I ran the concept by our son, suspecting — correctly — that if he were receptive, Martin might get onboard. I then created a special remembrance that would end up in our son’s home. I was comforted by that thought and liked to think that the photos of happy times would be uplifting for him.
Not long ago, Martin surprised me by announcing, “I think I’d rather be buried.” I asked why. “I’m already disintegrating,” he quipped. “I may as well stick with that.”
Resenting the fact that coffins were back on the table, I said, “I figured it out last time. It’s your turn to come up with a plan.” Worried that his ambivalence would return us to limbo, I said, “You have two months to make burial arrangements. If I were you,” I added, “I’d get on it. Just counting the ones that begin with ‘Mount’, there are seven Jewish cemeteries in New York.”
“What happens if I don’t?” he asked.
I pointed to the unique urn awaiting us. It now seems to be where we’re heading.