Junk Mail Prompts An (Almost) Date with Death
I recently got a postcard inviting me to something called a “Peace of Mind Seminar.”
Awesome, I thought. Peace of mind is in short supply these days. I’m nervous by nature, and President Trump’s twitchy Twitter finger (and all that entails) have exacerbated my anxiety. I could use a free yoga class. Or some aromatherapy. Whatever this was, I wanted in on it.
“We invite you to learn more about how planning for your final wishes may shield your family from unnecessary emotional and financial burden,” reads the card … from a local funeral home.
So much for that promised peace of mind.
The seminar turns out to be a chance for me to contemplate my own mortality – something a 2017 cancer diagnosis already allowed me to do. But, hey. Death being the only certainty in life, I guess you can’t mull it over often enough.
I was being invited to figure out how to afford my promotion to Glory. I’ve never gotten a solicitation from a retirement community and would’ve been a little offended if I had. So, getting one from a funeral home was pretty unnerving. Could it really be time to think about my “final wishes”?
I worry occasionally about a recurrence of cancer. Will I still have health insurance – Congress keeps threatening to yank it away from those of us with pre-existing conditions – and be able to pay for treatment?
If cancer comes back, maybe I should skip the treatment and go straight for a showy send-off and satin-lined casket? There’s just so much for a chronic worrier to worry about. And now this.
The Great Beyond
“Space is limited,” the card told me.
Somehow, I doubt that – although the free lunch that presumably comes along with all this peace of mind may tempt some.
I’ve attended a seminar just to get fed – but it involved less weighty matters than picking out and paying for my coffin. If you’re going to host a death seminar and expect me to come, it had better involve steak frites and tequila shots.
I couldn’t shake the death grip this stupid postcard had on me. I was now part of the target market for mortuaries, and I needed to share the sad news. So, I posted about it on Facebook. I was relieved that a few friends had gotten the same thing in the mail. And I immediately felt better, thanks to my friends’ good humor.
- “That ‘Space is limited’ challenges everything I thought I knew about life and death!” said one response.
- “You might want to stay in the house today and avoid using any electrical appliances, etc.,” said another. Not that I was in any mood to go out after the card “inspired me” to ponder the financial burden my death would place on my septuagenarian parents.
- My sister’s response wasn’t afraid to mine that worry: “On behalf of your family, I hope you’ve RSVP’d already because we do want to be shielded from an unnecessary burden.”
Easy for her to laugh. Blake is two-and-a-half-years younger than I and won’t need to think about her burdensome passing for a while. But she has a teenage son who definitely doesn’t want the burden of paying for his mom’s funeral. Perhaps I should let Blake take my space (since it’s so “limited” and all) at this death workshop. At least one of us will have peace of mind.
Joining the choir invisible
Being middle-aged has landed me on a number of mailing lists I don’t necessarily want to be on. I’ve been invited to cosmetic surgery seminars, retirement planning lunches and time-share talks.
I’ve always tossed those into the recycling bin without giving them much thought. So, why did this postcard stick in my craw?
Because I know how much information is being gathered and sold about all of us all the time, I wondered: Does the undertaker know I’ve had cancer? Have I been ID’d as a likely candidate for premature death?
Yay. A new thing to worry about.
Ultimately, I always turn to writing. It helps me process the absurd. It’s my pacifier, my therapy, my salvation. Joan Didion wrote, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” It’s the same for me.
I wasn’t even sure why I was so rattled by the death card until the second draft of this story. My friend/editor Tim Miner asked me to dig deeper to discover why I couldn’t just let this go.
We don’t like to be reminded of our mortality. And I resent an attempt to guilt me (“shield your family from burden”) into buying a coffin on an installment plan.
The day may come when I am ready to draft my obit and decide where my ashes will be scattered. Cremation is cheaper than interment; my frugal family has known for years we all want a bargain burial. But that day is not going to be anytime soon. And it’s not going to be prompted by a direct-mail postcard.
I didn’t reserve my spot at the seminar. Instead, I got in touch with an old friend.
I’ve been enjoying the sunshine before the heat turns oppressive.
I’ve been more inclined to order another glass of wine and stay out a little later than I planned.
You know, things that don’t cost a lot and that I can enjoy before I’m consigned to pushing up daisies.
Death won’t wait. But a seminar about death? That can wait indefinitely.
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