Sunday, July 3, 2016

No Headstone? Here's Some Ideas

“Memory has become a sacred duty of all people of goodwill.” Elie Weisel

Hubby and I went to the cemetery last week - not to check a record, take a picture for a memorial request or to honor an ancestor.  Instead, we went to check on space availability for what would become our final real estate purchase.  It was a very weird experience.

We grew up with the Jackson 5, literally.  There are some historical moments that most Boomers claim to remember for the impact that it made on the world and to them personally  - where they were when the Kennedys and MLK was shot, the moon landing, and 9-11, for example, but one of the most pivotal moments to me was the death of Michael Jackson.  Seriously.  I grew up about a mile away from the Jackson family household in Gary, Indiana.  As a student council representative as a freshman in high school I was placed on a committee to select a band for an upcoming dance the organization would be sponsoring. That was how I first became involved with the Jacksons...

I am tone deaf - most people say they can't carry a tune but for me it's so bad that people ask my to stop singing  I can dance, though, and quite well.  So keep this in mind as I tell the tale....

The committee met one day after school to listen to 3 bands that had been narrowed down, I guess, from others that had expressed interest in playing the upcoming dance.  The Jacksons were one of those bands.  It was before they were famous. I'm not sure if Dianna Ross was dating Mayor Hatcher then.  Likely she hadn't yet arranged for all those talented people to transform the Jackson family into - The Jacksons.  Michael was still too little, as was Janet, when the band auditioned.  I'm older then both of them.  The song they played was not danceable.  Very weird beat.  

I was not impressed with the Jackson's performance and neither was the others on my committee.  Which says a lot about our ability to recognize talent or about how much practice (and the right coaching) makes perfect.  Either way, we selected another band.  Can't remember their name, can't even remember the dance very well but I remember the Jacksons because within a very short time after this they were everywhere.  

Gary's previous favorite sons were Karl Malden (who had gone to high school with my uncle) and George Karras, who's brother owned the house next door to us and who I price gouged once but that's another story.  Oh, Gary was also famous for the dumb song from the Music Man that repeats "Gary, Indiana."   Gary was not known for music so your can imagine the city's pride in the Jackson 5.  They performed a concert at Gleason Park, just 3 blocks from our home.  They sounded great that night.

Like the Jacksons, my husband and I left Gary to follow our dreams elsewhere.  I haven't been back there since 2001 when my mom passed.  

When Michael Jackson died I was on a bus with fellow educators on I 75 south of Tampa coming back from visiting a then brand new state of the art community college that had been built out in the sticks.  It had been a tiring day and we were being driven back to where we had all parked our cars so we could go home.  A counselor who was sitting a few rows up had gotten a phone call and I heard her exclaim, "Oh, no. That's ..." and her words trailed off.  I knew she had an elderly mom and assumed something had happened to her.  The woman ended the conversation, rose from her seat and half standing, announced, "Michael Jackson is dead."  

I couldn't process this sentence.  How could he be dead?  He was younger than me.  Certainly my lifestyle was not as stressful nor did I make the life choices that he had but..... he was younger than me.  Certainly I had experienced in my lifetime the passing of those that were young - several fellow students, friends of the family, colleagues and neighbors' children.  But Michael, well, he was bigger than life.  In my mind, he was permanently young and invincible.  My memory wasn't of him after the numerous plastic surgeries.  I still remembered the little kid and I was stunned.

I told my husband as soon as I returned home that afternoon.  I reached the conclusion, on the drive home that day, that our preparation for death needed to occur.  So we scheduled an appointment with our attorney the following day and had our wills updated.  That was as far as we got - didn't think further than that.

A few weeks ago I received a thick packet in the mail from a rural Indiana county.  I was delighted to examine the probate file of a couple I was writing about.  My delight soon turned to sadness as I read that the grown children had to come up with the money for the burial, repay the man's debts and take in their mom, all due to the lack of planning on the couple's part.  When the mom died several years later the kids again had to put their money together to make sure the burial was paid.

I don't want that to be me.  Hubby and I discussed it and decided that he, too, was going to donate his body to science.  I've previously written about that so check out my blog Death and the Genealogist from 23 June.  He wants his cremains returned so that's how we ended up at the cemetery last week.  

Burial is big business and expensive.  I am thrifty.  We reached our decision of where to be buried based on 

  • where we live - we wanted it close to this area that we've called home for many years, 
  • what the place will be like in the future - have experienced too many forgotten cemeteries so we wanted assurance there would be some level of maintenance
  • reasonably priced
That led us to a local city owned cemetery.  On the way there the song, Stairway to Heaven, played on the radio.  Had to snicker about "and she's buying a stairway to heaven..."

When we arrived we learned there was a problem (why is there always a problem?!).  The cemetery was running out of space.  We looked at the limited options and Hubby jokingly said it was kind of noisy, being right off the main street.  I laughed and reminded him we both grew up on main streets so it would be coming full circle.

In our community we can no longer be buried in ground.  Looking across the expanse I saw lots of empty space so I didn't understand how there wasn't much space left.  I was informed that many people didn't have markers.  Lots of reasons for that - the cost, lack of planning, couldn't decide, it aged and fell apart, and so on.

That made me really sad!  I recently did some client work and that was the case with the woman's great grandma.  Buried between two of her children she was the only one with no marker.  The client was upset and said she was going to see that a marker was put up.  So I really wanted a marker


The cemetery employee said we could order the brass plaque now and they'd put the final dates, included in the price, on it later.  We sat in an office and looked at insignias to add to personalize the plaque and wasn't real impressed.  Discovered my real first name, with my maiden and last name, is too long for the plaque so had to go with initial of my maiden name.  Can only put the year of birth and death and no relationship to each other.  Wow, so much for helping out a genealogist in the future.  I will be leaving in the cemetery file copies of our birth and marriage certificates and the obits for our parents so at the very least, if requested, the future inquirer will have a start of a paper trail.  Check to see if that's available when you do your planning.

Yesterday, hubby and son were building a brick bbq grill in our backyard.  He had laid the cement foundation a long while ago but had never gotten around to finishing the project. Last night, he remarked about an idea that came to him when he was building.  I have to admit this is quite humorous to see how one's mind works but here is the trail.... Building the bbq grill reminded him of my family stories about my grandmother's house that had a bbq grill just like the one he was working on.  That led to him thinking about my mom who loved helping us with around the house projects and who would have loved to know that the crematorium had sent us a rebate after death because she had over paid.  That made him think about the cemetery we had just selected and the people who had no stones and why couldn't inexpensive "stones" be used.  He recalled laying the cement for the bbq and he figured, if he could do it, anyone could and a cemetery base could be prefab and easy to install, too.  Always looking to recycle, why can't someone use excess countertops, like Corian, and engrave the deceased's name and dates, then affix it to the cement base?  I dunno!  Why can't they?  Probably because there's no money in it!  All I know is that as difficult and strange is the experience to select one's final resting place for us, it's done and we can happily live the rest of our lives knowing we planned til the end.  





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