July 21, 2006

It’s my funeral and I’ll serve ice cream if I want to

ROBERT TISCH, who ran the Loews Corp., had a marching band at his memorial service and a packed house at Avery Fisher Hall, all orchestrated by one of New York’s most prominent party planners. Estée Lauder’s had waiters passing out chocolate-covered marshmallows on silver trays. At Nan Kempner’s memorial, at Christie’s auction house, guests received a CD of Mozart’s Requiem. Ms. Kempner had wanted a live performance of the Requiem, but the logistics — full orchestra, chorus and soloists — were too much.

At a time when Americans hire coaches to guide their careers and retirements, tutors for their children, personal shoppers for their wardrobes, trainers for their abs, whisperers for their pets and — oh, yes — wedding planners for their nuptials, it makes sense that some funerals are also starting to benefit from the personal touch. As members of the baby boom generation plan final services for their parents or themselves, they bring new consumer expectations and fewer attachments to churches, traditions or organ music — forcing funeral directors to be more like party planners, and inviting some party planners to test the farewell waters. (Originally published in The New York Times, July 20, 2006. Click on blog title for the rest of the story.)

I FOUND this piece so hilarious because only a week ago, this was exactly the same thing I had written about in my column in the Business Mirror (Something Like Life). When I think of my funeral, I think of a New Orleans Mardi Gras. Don't mourn for me. Celebrate my life! Since BM's Archives is out of whack, am reprinting the column in its entirety below. Enjoy!

Defying Death

DEATH has a way of giving us pause in our busy barely surviving existence. It literally knocks the wind from under our feet, grabs our shoulders and shakes us from our reverie of an otherwise contented (or so we think) lives.

We stop and think of our own mortality but try to give some levity to the situation to keep us from getting all depressed.

When a dear friend passed away last week, I started looking for the contracts on my life plan and cremation plan. No I don’t have a life insurance which some young people mistakenly buy first, since I don’t have any children anyway, which is the point of buying such a plan. (I am sure I will get grief from friends who are in the insurance business about this point of view.)

Anyway, I bought both life and cremation plans a year after my first brother passed away in 1995. Both plans were supposed to have been sitting in my parental units’ safe deposit box, which were among the documents I had turned over for safekeeping when I worked abroad. Unfortunately, I only found my life plan policy and to this day, I am desperate that the contract on my cremation plan is missing.

At the wake, we discussed why having a life plan was important. Our friend didn’t have one because he didn’t believe in it, probably superstitious too, and so his family had to find one to ease the cost of having a wake and burial for him. Fortunately, a donor was found. One 30-something friend of ours commented that it was “too early” for her to get a life plan. But after my brother passed away suddenly at 36 of an aneurysm, one kinda gets the feeling that Death isn’t going to accept an excuse that one’s too young if he ever decides to comes knocking at your door. So I got the life and cremation plans when I was 30.

This piece isn’t about selling life plans. It is really a piece on making your family sleep safely and soundly, and perhaps extending your power over them and your friends into the after life. Haha. Seriously, for single women like me who have to stay out late sometimes to work or get a story, and you have retired parents who still think you’re a baby, getting a life plan is a way of putting your affairs in order. It gives everyone the assurance that once you’ve passed on, and heaven forbid that it happens while you’re young, you won’t give any headaches to the ones left behind. Think about it. A decent coffin these days costs at least P30,000, without a service. A cremation is P35,000. Build in a 10 percent inflation rate every year, and who knows how much funeral costs will have ballooned by the time you keel over.

If your folks or your siblings don’t have enough finances to bury you, good luck. You are probably in for a Viking or Hindu funeral…granting your family has enough money to even buy wood and some matchsticks.

Getting a life plan is one way of deciding how you want to be shepherded into the afterlife or wherever hell hole you will end up going. For control freaks like me, it’s a way of ensuring that your instructions will be still be followed even after you’ve gone. In my other brother’s case, the one who passed away last year, we never even knew he wanted to be cremated until it was too late and the last block on his tomb had been cemented in. He didn’t have a life plan so we just did what came naturally and sealed him up good.

When my time comes, my body shall lie in state in a simple coffin which I had instructed to be donated to some less fortunate family. (Hopefully it won’t go to a fake body who will be waited on by fake mourners sitting around playing tong-its all day and night.) A girlfriend is in charge of calling some special people who have been close to me and whom I have probably tortured in the years that I have known them. And not just in the biblical sense mind you.

I have already assigned another friend to be in charge of any eulogies in case any idiots plan to speak of my goodness, sincerity and humility while I had been alive. Fat chance that that will happen but then there’s a sucker born every minute. However, I have yet to entrust anyone with coordinating the ensuing parties that will be held every day of the wake. There will be lots of singing, dancing, card games, my favorite music to be played, and only good food. This job is still open to anyone who may wish to apply although I am thinking of assigning it to a gayfriend.

After the customary three days of celebration not mourning, especially if my friends get to play their card games while they are making the usual “lamay”, my body will then be torched and any bit of bones ground up into a fine ash. My nieces and nephew are already charged with the responsibility of disposing my ashes. How that will be done I won’t tell.

We go on with our daily activities, just trying to make ends meet in this cruel unjust yet amusing world. Most of the time we really don’t have the power over what happens to us even if we try to delude ourselves that the outcome of any of our actions was certainly planned and well thought out by us. But I intend to micromanage what will happen to me when I’m gone to the minutest detail and hopefully cause little anxiety to the rest of my family. In the end, that is how I want to be remembered and nothing else.

And if you must know, I have already instructed my agent to have the policy contract on my cremation plan reconstructed as soon as possible.

It’s crazy I know. Some women plan for weddings. I plan for my funeral. Well phooey!

(Originally published in the Business Mirror, July 14-15, 2006. Photos from www.experienceneworleans.com.)

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