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Discount Death 

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.


(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)


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