The Home Team / R.I.P.
Our friend Inge picked up the small sterling silver canister from the right side of the mantle in our living room, apparently having decided it would look better on the left. As she lifted it, she felt something shift inside. Opening the canister, she found a pill container. She shook it. "What's in here?" she asked my wife.
"My father," Carol answered.
When Inge stopped shrieking, my wife gave her the low-down. After her father had been cremated in south Jersey, a portion of his ashes had gone to her, another portion to her aunt, and the remainder had been scattered over his beloved golf course at the Linwood Country Club.
Not to be morbid, but this little incident got me thinking about . . . how to put this? . . . about my own long-term planning. Sure, the idea of being preserved in a handsome canister or a decorative urn had its appeal. At this point, who knows where our three sons will ultimately settle? This way, they could take me with them wherever they go.
The more I considered it, though, the more I was bothered by the carpet-baggish aspect of the traveling ashes idea. At heart, I'm a traditionalist. I like the idea of a final resting place. The big question, though, is where?
My own parents are in a cemetery in Plantation, Fla., in those above-ground vaults that have become so popular. Problem is, none of my family lives in Florida anymore, so we only get to visit my mom and dad when we travel down to Miami for Dolphins games.
I'd like to think of my family being able to stop by and see me a little more conveniently when the time comes, so location is important. There's a tiny little cemetery I've always admired on a sloping hill in Vermont just across the road from a gorgeous, white-fenced horse farm -- with a spectacular view of Stratton Mountain. But the graveyard is a touch out of the way, and I'm pretty sure you had to have fought in the Revolutionary War to be admitted.
Lately I've been considering Montauk, a place that's near and dear to every member of my family. A bunch of years ago, while exploring by bike, I happened upon an enchanting burial ground called Fort Hill Cemetery, in the shadows of Montauk Manor, with a sliver of shimmering Fort Pond Bay in the distance.
This past summer, on a rainy Monday, we went with our friends Nancy and Steve to have a look. (Yes, I'm interested in this final resting place question -- but not enough to spend a beach day on it.) As we approached the cemetery, we saw a sign in the grass alongside Fort Hill Road. It said DEAD END.
Something in this grim sighting prompted Steve to tell us the story of his father's funeral -- a ceremony so bizarre we half-believed he was making it up. His parents had chosen cremation, but his mother didn't like the idea of going the urn-or-canister route; she wanted something with a little more pizzazz. So she enlisted the Eternal Ascent Society. I don't think I could do Steve's hilarious description of the proceedings justice, so I'll just quote from the copy on the society's website:
END YOUR LOVED ONE ON A FINAL FLIGHT TO THE HEAVENS. If you've chosen cremation over burial, the Eternal Ascent Society can provide a most memorable form of closure. Your loved one can now be safely transported to the heavens in a giant helium-filled balloon, only from the Eternal Ascent Society.
You can then click on separate buttons for the "Human Release Photo Gallery," and yes, also the "Pet Release Photo Gallery." All ceremonies -- human and pet -- come complete with a "Memorial Photificate." (For those of you on the lookout for a business opportunity, the Eternal Ascent Society owners are still selling franchises.)
There's no doubt this is a novel approach to the hereafter and, yes, the up, up and away send-off certainly has a positive vibe. Somehow, though, I think I'll ultimately opt for something a little more down-to-earth.
Westporter Hank Herman shares his Home Team column every other Friday in the Westport News.