Ashes to Ashes

Apr 22, 2024

by Ken Rummer

My wife and I have been discussing final arrangements; yes, those final arrangements. Nothing is imminent, at least not that we know of, but if it comes to that – rather, when it comes to that – what would we each prefer? What are our druthers for marking our own demise?

We had some trouble meeting up with the funeral director. First, we found a closed sign at the entrance to the car wash. Dust to dust may be the way of all flesh, but we were hoping for a little less on our vehicle. Without the planned wash stop, we arrived at the funeral home early, so we burned some time doing a windshield tour of the cemetery. Then, when we went inside, the receptionist informed us that yes, they were expecting us, but not for two more hours.

So it was home again, with unexpected time to ponder death and what comes after.

Will I be looking down at my body from the ceiling as some near-death survivors report? Will I be like Tom Sawyer hiding in the church balcony, able to attend his own funeral?

Will I be a drop of rain returning to the ocean? A butterfly emerging from the cocoon? A brown leaf falling from its branch to go dancing with the wind?

Will I be waiting to be raised up at the last trumpet? Or hearing “Today you will be with me in Paradise?” Will I be led through green pastures by still waters? Or welcomed into a heavenly city?

Is what comes after death, sleeping with the ancestors, walking hand in hand with Jesus, or something wonderfully beyond description?

What no eye has seen nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him.
–I Corinthians 2:9 NRSV

Back at the funeral home, after polite apologies all around for the mix up, the conversation turns to the reason for our visit: trying final arrangements on for size.

Urn or casket? Service or no service? Burial lot or scattered ashes? Visitation the night before or the same day or family-only? Bronze marker, granite bench, or ashes fused into glass?

I sat in on discussions like this when I served as a pastor, supporting grieving families as they had to make decisions in the moment. I’m hoping that thinking this through now and getting some things on paper will make it easier for my family.

The funeral director welcomes our ideas and answers our questions. The notes on his pad are shaping into a personalized plan. He adds prices to the items and shows us the number at the bottom of the page. It’s less than I feared, but still a sizeable sum.

We decide to defer the prepay decision for a few weeks. We want to fly our tentative plans past our children and get their thoughts. A consultation on the future-interest-versus-peace-of-mind calculation with regard to the burial trust is also on the list. And we want to revisit our notes on suggested music and scripture readings for our funerals. Where is that draft obituary I wrote for myself a few years ago?

I can report that it feels lighter, having even a tentative plan in place. The process wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. Definitely doable.

Oh, and more good news: the carwash is now open.