Death of an American Consumer

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately about making, you know, my “final arrangements.”  Sure, sure, I’m in great shape for my age, and it’s not healthy to dwell on it — but you just never know!  Heart attack, brain spasm — whatever.  And my motto has always been — “be prepared!”

It was just some junk-mail, some insurance company offering funeral insurance — “the ultimate peace-of-mind” — that really got me thinking about it.  The brochure had a picture of a couple just smiling their heads off — I guess they were really looking forward to a worry-free passing!  Anyway, I really hadn’t given this the thought I should have — quite unusual for me, since, like I say, I normally plan everything ahead of time.  To avoid those “unpleasant surprises,” you know.  But in this case, I’ve really been remiss.  I certainly don’t want my kids to end up having to foot the bill.  These things can run to even $10,000 — or more!

But I’m talking your ear off.  Let’s see. Let’s google “funeral insurance,” and see what pops up.  “Funeral insurance: rates as low as $13/month.”  Pretty cheap — that’s gotta be for the 85-and-over crowd!  Wait, here’s a consumer guide: “The 8 Best Burial Insurance Options for 2019!”  That sounds comprehensive, but…oh, here’s what I was looking for: “Smart Ways to Cover Your Funeral — AARP!”  Sure, I’ll make a note of that.

Now, what kind of a funeral do I want? — not that I’d grouse if it wasn’t so great, haha.  But, you know, like most folks, I can’t make up my mind: cremation or casket?  And that also reminds me — how the heck does a “casket” differ from a coffin?  “Usually constructed of better quality timbers, and features higher standards of workmanship.”  Hmm…good to know, what with the issues of seepage and rot and all.  But I’m still not sure…

“Coffin sale at Wal-mart!  25% off already discounted prices.  As low as $999 (real wood)!”  Not bad, not bad.  What about Costco? They buy wholesale, you know.  But what’s this?  ”Consumers who think they’re getting a good deal buying a casket at Amazon or Costco may end up paying more than they think in the end!” (Marketwatch, 6/25/17).  I don’t know…that doesn’t sound so good after all.

Besides, if I go cheap, what will everyone think during the viewing?  “Usually better timbers”. I don’t like that “usually”!  If I’m gonna shell out a few thousand bucks, I’d better be getting hi-quality, top-of-the-line merchandise, right?  And I don’t want to go too cheap. I already have the rep of being a tightwad (unfair, of course).  But, now that I think of it, the “viewing” would be a pain-in-the-ass!  Who wants to get “embalmed” and then have to lie on a, what, “velveteen pillow with a sateen envelope”?  Forget it.

Let’s consider the alternative.  (By the way, sorry to be going-on like this.  It’s just that it’s a really important decision, and your being here and listening and all, well, it helps me–to think.)  So…let’s google “cremation,” and see what pops up!  “People ask: can I just get cremated without a service?”  Good question — that’s a no-nonsense person for you!  “Answer: Yes–direct cremation is the most affordable option for your disposition.”  “Disposition” — I like that.  Every profession has its trade-lingo, I guess.  Here’s a funny question: “Do I have to have clothes on when I’m cremated?  Answer: No (pajamas or a sheet OK).”  Makes sense.  Now, look at this.  Why in the world are people asking about caskets again?  It says right here that you–I mean, your body–only has to be placed in a rigid container of some kind, ”even a cardboard box”!  Not really, come on–I have to draw the line at that!

But wait a minute, I have to appreciate that a lot of people just can’t afford anything fancier, it’s not their fault!  And that brings me back, I guess, to the funeral insurance — sure, sure, might as well not procrastinate.  You know, ”better be safe — than sorry”!

Intellectual historian and psychoanalytic anthropologist, William Manson (Ph.D., Columbia) has published numerous scholarly books and papers, and is a longtime contributor to Dissident Voice. Read other articles by William.