Funerals are nothing to laugh about. Yet, there are several opportunities for a good laugh as you move forward from the funeral experience you have just had and begin to recover your senses and process ‘what just happened’. When my brother entered college, he had to organize a funeral for an expired tube of neosporin ointment as part of hazing. Invites, choosing funeral site in the dorm, viewing, procession, and the whole nine yards. He shared his fun experience with us when we met during the holidays. It wasn’t fun organizing a real one for my husband.
When my brothers, my husband’s best friend and I went to the funeral home to meet with the director of the place, make selections for the funeral service among the options and go over logistics, we were in a very cold dark place. Our friend’s wife had already called them ahead and gone over their ‘package options’ and selected an option so that all we needed to do was give the funeral home clothes for the viewing, sign papers and make the payment. When we arrived, the funeral director, let’s call him Mr. Smith for this purpose, wouldn’t cut his marketing spiel. Mr. Smith went over each funeral service package with us all over again, saying, “I know you selected this package, but let me make sure you know about all the service packages that we offer”. He went on and on, stating their mission and what they stand for and giving an overview of the company and going over each of their brochures and the catalog of options – options for casket style, choice of flowers for the casket and the space around, choice of urn for ashes and so on, while saying that we will get to make selections later on. While shivering and holding my brothers’ hands and still in a state of disbelief that we are sitting in a funeral director’s office when life was completely bright and rosy less than 24 hours before, I asked him if we could skip ahead of the descriptions, make the selections and pay. He said, “I hear you” and went on like a pre-programmed cassette player that doesn’t have a fast-forward button. The four of us held each other and sat around his table, like war captives. Then he introduced us to his staff who gave us a tour of the place. My brothers and I had never set foot in a funeral home before this in our entire lives and our tummies were seriously churning. I really wanted to throw up, but somehow, I didn’t.
Even while showing us the options, Mr. Smith was nudging us towards certain options, like a seasoned car dealer. Negotiating prices was a non-option. He wouldn’t say it directly either. “Would you do this casket floral decoration for $450 instead of $600?” “We can, but we would be able to cover only half of the casket with flowers”. A simple no would have gone a long way in our already shell-shocked minds. “I would like this Satori urn”, I said, pointing to a beautiful ocean blue green bronze urn that I instantly loved. “Well, may I suggest that you take a tour of the glass cases along this corridor and see if you like one of the urns on display. The red chestnut urn is a very popular choice.” After four or five back and forth sentences, as my stomach churned with increasing intensity the whole time, it was apparent that the urn that I loved is a special order and for some reason, it was too much work for him to order it. And then there were other choices to make – yellow balloons vs. dove release vs. butterfly release (the right choice he was expecting us to make was dove release – “butterflies are not in season”). We made another choice for a pendant with Anil’s thumb print for a couple hundred dollars. He kept referring to Anil’s ashes as Anil. “If you don’t come back for Anil within sixty days, he won’t be here for you”, as my feeble brain thought “Well, aren’t we here because he is no longer here with us?” The two hours we spent there seemed like an eternity. We left the place after signing away a dozen grand, with funeral home swag in our hands – grocery bag, brochures, and what not. Except the receipt, I put everything else in trash right away.
Here is how the actual funeral service played out. Overall, it was a loving, peaceful and meaningful service that couldn’t have been a better tribute to my husband. On the comical side which we didn’t laugh about until a few weeks later when we recovered our ability to laugh, there were quite a few ‘LOL’ moments. A relative wanted the funeral service date to be moved so that ‘He’ could attend. Another relative wanted to FaceTime so his mom could see – which was probably a reasonable request in this day and age, but the timing and context were too sad to allow it and our old-fashioned minds were too weirded out by the request. One of our friends (she loves me a lot, and this has nothing to do with love) wore so much makeup and cried so much while hugging me – so, all the makeup rubbed on to my white tunic. (White is the color for Hindu funerals) Not a good idea to wear makeup if you know you are going to cry. The funeral home forgot to take a thumb print of my husband before the cremation – so, there was no pendant with a thumb print. They didn’t respond to my request for a refund either. We were all too worn out at the end of the service and no one saw a dove release, and the funeral home couldn’t confirm that it happened either. As was the case with the pendant, no refund. We did get ‘Anil’ in the ocean blue Satori urn, but I didn’t get to keep it because the temple priests insisted that it is Hindu custom to leave the urn behind in the ocean where we immersed the ashes. Even in our grief, we felt awful leaving behind the plastic cover the ashes were bagged in and the bronze urn in the ocean, more from an ocean pollution perspective and less for not being able to keep the urn as a memory. All I could pray for was that the urn and the plastic cover got caught in a fishing net and removed from the ocean. We learned that the right container for Hindu ashes is a biodegradable container like a mud pot. We also had to be very careful so as to not set off fire alarms in the funeral home for the Hindu religious prayer part of the service.
Many months later, I did a price check. It turns out that we paid a ‘sucker tax’ just like when you travel to a new destination and you overpaid for certain things because you were ignorant of how much things cost. Although we paid a full price for the casket, the casket is reused for other deceased individuals and only the inner lining is new. The urn for which we paid three or four hundred dollars costs $90 on Amazon. A friend of mine who is Christian told me how the real estate prices are hugely marked up if you are shopping for a burial site at a day’s notice. Same applies for rosaries and other burial or cremation items.
My office sent me a plant. I am an infectious diseases physician, and the florist had made a typo few months prior when my colleague lost her husband. See picture. Mine arrived with the correct spelling and we learned that the florist was ‘mortified’ when the typo was shown to them.