Little Boxes Full of Me

First off: I’m fine. As of today, as far as I know, I’m perfectly healthy, if you don’t count that mosquito bite on my ass and a distressing tendency to break into tears whenever anyone mentions Mingo.

But a few weeks ago someone asked me about the Neptune Society and “pre-need” cremation and I remembered that, while Bob and I had done this for him, we’d never done it for me. It worked well after Bob died: the hospice guy notified them and a few hours later two strong young men showed up in a van and hauled the body away.

It was around 10 pm when they arrived and one of them said to me, eyes rolling nervously, “Sure a lot of TREES around here.”

I said, “Dude. You’re driving around with a dead body in the back and you’re worried about trees?”

The ashes were returned to me in a plastic bag (with a cheap urn mandated by state law) and I scattered them. The urn went in the recycle because, really, what was I going to do with an empty plastic urn? None of my friends were dying to get in.

We’d signed the contract lo those many years before, something like 1995, and we’d misplaced the paperwork but they had everything on file in 2016. Straightforward and simple. So I decided to get this done for me because either I am a very considerate person and I want to make things easy for my executor or I have a passionate need to control everything even from beyond the grave. You decide.

The Neptune Society rep came out to the house and I signed a great many multiform papers and received the yellow copy and a temporary card to carry in my wallet in case I died in the next ten days and they wanted to know where to toss me. She explained I’d only receive the pink copy and the permanent plastic card after payment was received. Bureaucracy, even surreal bureaucracy, is always the same. I also got a bunch of extra paperwork explaining everything, including four sheets of A4 paper with the California Code regarding funerals and cremation in 4 pt. type. I have not read this but if anyone wants it, I have it. I assumed the next thing would be the envelope with pinks and plastic which I would file and forget. I checked all this crap off my to-do list.

Today I found this carton outside my gate. Not a box or an envelope. A carton. Inside was:

PRE-NEED KIT CONTENTS (people, there is an inventory list and here it is word for word)

  • Protective Foam Sheet
  • Removable Foam Tray Insert
  • Velvet Memento Tray
    • Glass tea light holder and candle
    • “Forever Loved” keepsake for family (cremated remains compartment is located on the bottom)
    • Closure plug, bag and twist tie
    • Box of thank you cards for memorial follow up
  • Cremation Planning and Information Book
  • Urn
  • Memory Chest (with photo frame holder)

Obviously, in the twenty or so years since Bob and I had done this there has been a certain amount of feature creep, as in when you have a nice piece of functional software and they keep adding ‘improvements’ until the thing is unworkable and unusable. Thank god I didn’t pre-order a rosewood casket with brass handles and a pink lining is all I can say. John Donne may have kept his shroud in the corner of his office but, frankly, I have enough to dust around here already.

I returned to the stack of paperwork and discovered I’d paid $1,338.00 for this tosh and,yes indeed, it said I’d get it pre-death (as it were). So I called the sales rep who explained it was part of the package and if I paid piece by piece it would actually cost more to just pick up my dead body, transport it to the crematory, burn it, and return the ashes to my executor in a plastic bag. I told her I planned to toss the entire thing in the recycle. She suggested I donate it to the VFW or the Salvation Army and take the entire amount off my taxes.

Well. Ahem. Not what I was planning but okay. The alternate was to cancel the entire contract and let my poor executor battle it out. It’s possible to get a cheaper cremation going with a funeral parlor directly but there’s those pesky transport fees which, as I know from my own past experience as an executor for a friend, can be a nightmare. So I’m keeping the contract, donating the crapola, and returning to my original strategy of file-and-forget.

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Mary Holland

Mary Holland writes alternative-world fantasy for grown-ups. Her books include Matcher Rules, The Bone Road, and The Dog of Pel. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with three cats and an ever-changing assortment of wildlife.

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