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Shopping for a loved one's final resting place makes for an interesting experience

When I was in high school, I took a test to determine what I should be when I grew up, based on aptitude and interests. The results were: 1) brewmaster; 2) stand-up comedian; and 3) funeral director.

I don't brew, but I do enjoy a good beer. As I cannot abide the messier aspects of cadaver preparation, I've settled on being a taphophile--one who appreciates the art, gardens and history of old cemeteries.

And in my case, a taphophile who appreciates the absurdity of planning a relative's funeral.

When my father died 20 years ago, I, being the sole living relative, inherited the task of arranging his memorial service. Unfamiliar with such matters, I asked around and was referred to one of the older, family-run mortuaries, located in one of Tucson's few buildings with an actual basement. When I arrived, I was greeted by the funeral director, who, after offering condolences and coffee, got down to business.

Burial or cremation? Religious or secular service? Plot or vault? If cremated, what did I want done with the cremains (a word which, until that moment, I thought referred to an exotic dessert)?

As he questioned me, he led me down to the basement, aka the casket showroom. I entered and was amazed at the sheer number of choices, each one more opulent than its predecessor--as were the price tags. No car dealership could match the display of conspicuous consumption.

My funereal friend said I could order a "custom casket in my father's favorite colors"; I could even have a window in the lid, displaying a Bible opened to the 23rd Psalm. I told him Dad was more the Playboy type, and asked if a subscription could be delivered to his plot. I also asked if an Itty Bitty Book Light came with the option, or if it was solar-powered. And I asked if I could lie down in the casket and give it a test drive; the old man was far more into comfort than style. Considering how long my father would be occupying the space, the least I could do was make him, er, comfortable.

Apparently, no one had ever to asked such things, as Mr. Director was at first speechless; his only response was to ask how much I wanted to spend. After I gave my answer, we then proceeded to the "bargain room," where a particle-board casket was selected, which was far more fitting of my father's no-nonsense personality.

His funeral was simple, too: a Catholic Mass attended by his fellow veterans and other friends.

Afterward, I thought about my own funeral. When the time comes, I'll be torched and tossed; part of me will be scattered here, where I grew up, and part of me will go into the Mississippi River outside of New Orleans, the most mystical place on Earth.

That, or a Viking funeral on Reid Park's lake; if the flaming arrow misses the boat, it's a free duck dinner for everyone. Either way, everybody's happy, and no Itty Bitty Book Lights need be involved.

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