The cemetery nazi

September 11, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Kim and ShirleyA member of my family died recently. My mother to be exact. My father died about 20 years ago and when both parents are gone – well, it’s like the final stage of growing up really. It wasn’t an unexpected death. After all, my mother was just short of 91 years old when she died a couple of months ago. Yes, that makes me about 66 years old, assuming she had me when she was around 25 or 73 years old if she was 18 when I was born. Either that, or I was a very late in life baby and am actually a lot younger than 73 or 66 years – take your pick :)-

My age, however, is not the subject of today’s post – the cemetery nazi is. The final act we had to complete before putting her death behind us was to decide on the final resting place. And so I’ve been dealing with a particular “Memorial Park” (a euphemism for cemetery). I went along to this Park to check out the grounds and to settle on what I thought would be a good spot – my mother didn’t like water, so that ruled out the most popular area of plots congregated around the Park’s lake facing a Westerly direction (which is probably good Feng Shui). That left the rose garden, which looked very English country garden if you ask me; or the native bush area. Since my mother wasn’t keen on roses, I was really only left with the native bush area. The decision from here was: memorial wall or circular plot in which you can plant your own native shrub?

Having narrowed the options down, I headed off for my appointment with the Park’s “placement consultant”. I walked into a reception area full of the different types of urns you could choose from to hold the ashes – urns with pictures of horses; urns with floral decorations; urns with racing cars. Immediate panic set in: I hadn’t thought about the urn.

Out walked a bleached-blonde whose first mistake was in calling me Victoria and, once I corrected her, her second mistake was having no idea why I was there (despite having spoken to her the day before about the appointment). Ushered into her office, we sat down. I was about to launch myself into saying that the memorial wall in the native bush area was a goer – but I didn’t get that far. She pre-empted our discussion by barking instructions – “I only have 3 plots left. They’re around the lake. We sell them as double plots so you can bring your father from wherever he is and put him in there too“. (I kid you not: these were her words).

Had I mistakenly wandered into the wrong office of someone selling plots of land in the latest suburban estate development? I asked why I’d be interested in a plot for two people when there is only one person? (My father is in a single plot and, for various reasons, we’ve decided not to disturb that plot but go for two singles). She looked at me quizzically and said well, you can buy the two-person plot and you can go there later (mmmm…..not sure my husband would like that idea!).

Okay, so how much are we talking for the two person plot? With not a bat of her eyelashes, she responded about $7,000 but then you have to factor in the type of plaque, the type of urn and so on. $7,000? I was almost ready to take up position in the two person plot when I heard that amount! She dragged out her map showing the three plots she had left – a map full of surnames and their plot positions – I’m sure that broke Privacy laws.

Here, here and here – she jabbed her ruby-red (obviously fake) fingernails at the three plots she would allow me to consider. The three plots were all facing the lake, tracing an arc on the map. I asked her why people seemed to go for the lake and she said that people there liked the view. Say what? This was getting a tad bizarre. The people in the plots don’t get a view – they’re dead. So is this more about the living than the dead?

A whole new world revealed itself. Many of the plots had been bought years ago. You have to buy up early to get the best views she said. The rose garden was very popular, especially looking towards the mountain so you get the sun. I asked why one wall was completely blank – that’s because no-one likes to look towards the carpark and people don’t like to be in a wall as “…it’s very Holocaust“.

I wasn’t quite sure which way to go here: get up and walk out or try another tactic. All I wanted was something simple – my mother was a no fuss kind of person. She wouldn’t like a plot with her miniature photo displayed; she wouldn’t like being amongst roses; she couldn’t have cared less that the lake was full of wood ducks or that the sun was great at 11.00am.

So it seems to me that the “Memorial Park” business is a natural monopoly. Few people I guess want to engage with the funeral and cemetery industry. I certainly have never met anyone who has said to me that all they ever wanted to do in life was to be a funeral director or sell cemetery plots. I’m sure there are many people out there who see it as a way of helping people transition through grief, but the cemetery nazi I encountered certainly isn’t one of them. She was pretty good at playing on emotions – telling you about the most popular plots and suggesting that I wouldn’t want my mother to be in an “unpopular area”, God forbid facing the carpark.

It was a sort of take it or leave it situation – one of these three plots at an exorbitant price – and a faint suggestion that if I didn’t like this, well….there’s another Park about one hour away, but be cautious she said – part of the Park is set aside for “suicides”, so make sure you don’t get hoodwinked into getting a plot there.

Now, the Egyptians had a whole mythology based around death but it seems our Western society, if we don’t draw on religious beliefs, is left to the mercy of these types of people. We apply the living dimension to the afterlife – would she like the view from here? should I go for the $7,000 plot because I don’t want people to think my loved one couldn’t afford to be in a special area of the Park?

If you have a strong belief system, then you operate within this and it makes life (and death) a bit easier. You grieve within it. But if you don’t have this system to fall back on, then what values and principles inform the decision to bury our dead?

Back to the cemetery nazi: I was told another family was coming in to collect ashes, so I’d better hustle along with my decision. I told her I’d reflect on it and go for another walk around the park. Get back to me tomorrow, she said, plots go fast around here. That’s when I twigged that something else was going on – I asked her what do people do if they don’t have $7,000 or don’t want to spend that amount of money? Almost dripping with disdain, she replied that there are single plots available up the other end of the Park, near the kangaroos. Ah ha!

And so it turned out you could indeed buy a single plot, away from the overcrowded areas with memorial plaques jostling for position. You could indeed find a serene spot facing the bush, the lake or the mountain. You could get something pretty spesh for around $1,200 – but only if you queried the cemetery nazi and only if there was perhaps enough space between a person’s death and the need to decide on the resting place – because maybe you weren’t so emotionally vulnerable.

Of course, she was horrified by my decision for my mother’s plot (in an out of the way, very quiet area marked by few plots, away from the well-trodden paths of grief, and surrounded by bushland that is often visited by kangaroos and abundant wildlife – just what my mother would have liked. No urn. A scattering of the ashes to return to Earth and a simple plaque as a reminder). She ushered me out of the office as though I was some sort of second class citizen – and I vowed to take up a new career as a caring and friendly “placement consultant”.

Okay, that decision lasted for about 24 hours and I promise tomorrow’s post will be less heavy. Meanwhile, the photo accompanying this post is me and my mother, Shirley – both aged about 2 years – which one am I? I sure looked cute then!


Entry filed under: Reflections.

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