Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Ultimate Exit Strategy

My husband believes if we don’t make burial arrangements, he’ll be able to remain in our Greenwich Village apartment for eternity. This is why he keeps calling contractors to replace radiator covers and redo the floors, treating our condo not only as a living space, but a ridiculously expensive mausoleum. He's far more upbeat about the idea of renovating than having perpetual care.

I’m an obsessive planner, so have been checking online for resting places, which, at my age, is as apt to mean a cemetery as a mattress. Even before the internet provided easy access to information, I’d called to get a sense of coffin choices and received a number of photos. Each showed a handsomely adorned coffin, lined with satin, on a beach. I called a second time to say they hadn’t sent any Jewish coffins, which are to be simple, wood containers. This yielded another set of photos with names like “Abraham” and “David”, sending me back to the phone to ask, “No Sarah or Rebecca?” Though it was economical to buy ahead, I'm too much of a feminist to support this company.

I’m experienced enough online to know there would be a website reviewing cemeteries on the order of Trip Advisor, which provides user opinions and is a reliable site whether searching for a hotel in Bangkok, Wrexham or Irvine. Sure enough, Forbes lists the best cemeteries, spelling out how the uber-wealthy can have tombs with Tiffany windows and a state-of-the-art stereo system that plays a requested tune 24 hours a day. Nobody knows better than the rich that everything is “location, location, location”, which is why Hugh Hefner is said to have laid out $1 million for a grave next to Marilyn Monroe. This, still, did not change Martin's attitude about dying, but I suppose I should be flattered that he’d rather be alive with me than in the ground with a dead screen legend.

"I don't want to buried in Jersey" has become almost a mantra for Martin so I hoped to lift his spirits by telling him we could be buried in Westchester with Judy Garland and Joan Crawford, or if that was too much diva, we could be in Brooklyn with Sinclair Lewis and Leonard Bernstein. Neither option appealed to him nor did the prospect of spending forever with Charles Dickens and Karl Marx in London’s Highgate (which has the added complication of the dollar being weak against the pound). Martin has always toyed with the notion of buying an apartment in Paris and I expected he'd spark to the notion of ending up at Pere Lachaise, where Jim Morrison and Honore Balzac were laid to rest. They'll welcome you if you die in Paris, which - as ways to go go - doesn't sound so bad. But clearly all his talk about becoming an ex-pat doesn't extend to death.

My family has settled (literally) in L.A., so we could join Sammy Davis Jr., George Burns, Nat King Cole and my Aunt Clara at Forest Lawn or be at Hillside Mortuary with my parents and Al Jolson. That Menachem Begin, Prince Phillip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg and Martin’s father are at Mt. of Olives did not inspire Martin either, regardless of the spectacular view of Jerusalem and being on the short list should the messiah turn up.

Friends, respectful that burial space, unlike death, isn’t infinite, have been turning to cremation. One, shortly after her father died, bought a bench in Central Park and had his name put on a plaque. A couple with a large Connecticut estate is allowing intimates to scatter their ashes on the property. I got a resounding, "no" when I asked if Martin would consider that, but I shouldn't be shocked since he won't even spend the night at somebody's country home.

After reading “The Year of Magical Thinking”, Joan Didion’s account of the sudden death of her husband, I begged Martin to talk about burial plans, pointing out that the combination of shock and grief is horrifying, not a time to be faced with shopping for a coffin and plot. He seemed to agree, but has been cleaning out closets and drawers ever since. I can't be sure if his purpose is to be unavailable for this discussion or if he's making room for his remains.

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