Halloween: From Free Candy to Free Cremation

As a kid, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays, as it offered my two favorite words in the English language: "Free candy!"

Now that I am grown up, I am a little less enamored of it. I no longer like to wear costumes, and I can buy all of the candy I want.

Moreover, Halloween represents an occasion when we examine the bridge between the living and the dead, a celebration of ghouls, ghosts, spirits, spooks and skeletons. As a maturing adult, I don't necessarily want to participate in a holiday that reminds me of my own mortality.

At any rate, as Halloween approaches, I am again thinking about death. I say "again," as I suppose it's always somewhere in the back of one's mind, perhaps a primal need to avoid the early death or the bad death. I also worry about the embarrassing death. I wouldn't want my obit to read, "He died choking on a sandwich." And worse yet, I wouldn't want to be dying and have my whole life flash before my eyes and be bored. It would be miserable to be watching your own life story and saying to yourself, "Can't we move this thing along?"

I think the worst part of dying (other than, of course, the dying) is the burial and funeral. Morticians are very patient people. They sit and wait. And wait. And wait. Every time I read the obituary of someone who was a mortician, I somehow feel like I beat them at their own game.

Once you reach a certain mature age, the merchants of death begin soliciting your business. I am now on their mailing lists, receiving the most unwanted junk mail of all. Apparently my demise wouldn't be mourned by any of them. One man's loss in another's gain.

For example, I received a letter from one of the burial at sea businesses with an offer to win a "free pre-paid cremation." I was confused. How could it be both "free" and "prepaid?" That was a bit of an oxymoron. Nevertheless, I had never won anything in my life (or in my death), so I sent in my entry. After all, one should never look a gift hearse in the mouth.

I didn't win, but all things considered, it was probably for the best. I don't recall if the prize had to be claimed within a certain length of time. If I did win, I was going to ask them for the cash instead. I do wonder what lucky stiff won it.

Cremation followed by burial at sea does seem to be overkill, both literally and figuratively. If they are going throw your remains into the ocean, why must they cremate first? If they simply would toss your body into the sea, at least the fish could have a happy meal.

A casket manufacturer recently sent me a brochure advertising a guaranteed "leak proof" coffin. On some level, this amused me. How does a purchaser make them honor that warranty? How does the buyer discover if the casket leaked? The only solution would be to dig up the decedent and make sure there were no casket leaks. (Of course, a leaking casket is the least of a dead person's problems.)

My favorite piece of gloomy junk mail was from a manager of a group of Catholic Cemeteries soliciting my businesses. It read, in relevant part, as follows:

"As a Catholic Cemetery manager I know that many Catholics are not aware of the importance of making a Catholic Cemetery their final resting place." It also included the reassuring advice that "There is room for you at existing Catholic Cemeteries."

I am not Catholic, but it was nice to know that there was space available to me. There is an old joke about an elderly Jewish gentleman on his death bed who converted to Catholicism. When asked by his Rabbi why he did so, he replied, "Well, better one of them goes rather than one of us."

In Tibet, some Buddhist monks conduct "sky burials" where the decedent's body is taken to a mountain top, prepared, and served up to be devoured by predatory birds. When nothing is left but the leftovers, the remains are pulverized into a paste mixed with cornmeal, and that too is fed to the vultures.

We have a similar ritual in the west -- it's called the estate sale.