Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Motorcycles and Cremations

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights
But the queerest they ever did see,
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
— Robert William Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee

A recent ad in the local newspaper by a Denver mortuary and cemetery called Olinger Highland together with another company’s offer of a freebie that arrived in the mail, makes the whole post mortem thing enticing.

The newspaper ad begins by declaring that “People are fascinating” and then says that funerals “should be designed around their unique personalities.” In recognition of this, the ad says that members of a group known as the Dignity Memorial network offer something called “certified Celibrants. ” In further explanation the ad says that: “Our Celebrants can create and officiate a final tribute that defines your loved one.” This is probably especially important in the case of someone whose life was unremarkable and, therefore, needed a bit of post death defining. That is probably better than the obituary written by family members that inflate the accomplishments of the decedent.

In addition to the helpful text, the ad features a picture of three motorcycle riders driving down a street and, in large letters, a statement that “Every part of a funeral can be unique. . . even the procession.” Attached to one of the three brightly colored motorcycles is a sidecar containing either an urn, a corpse, or both although the picture is a bit fuzzy and one can’t be sure. The ad says that the mortuary will “help you create the event of a lifetime.” Since the decedent is either in an urn or riding in the side card, it is hard to understand how this is an event of a lifetime as far as the decedent is concerned but it may simply be that I do not fully appreciate the lure of what is probably the decedent’s last motorcycle outing unless the family intends to keep the urn and its contents and permit them to accompany the family on pleasant summer motorcycle rides.

If the object in the picture is indeed an urn it is possible that the person whom it contains received the mailing that appeared in my mailbox on the same day the ad for the motorcycle ride appeared. It was clearly meant for me specifically since the envelope was addressed to me personally rather than to “occupant.” It came from the “Neptune Society, America’s Cremation Specialists.” On the outside of the envelope was a statement that the envelope’s contents pertained to a “Free Pre-Paid Cremation! Details inside.” As is often the case with such things, the contents of the envelope, although enticing, were not quite as represented. The first thing to emerge from the envelope was a letter describing the virtues of cremations including the fact that the process has less of an effect on the environment than the alternatives, a feature the Neptune Society knew would appeal to a Boulder Colorado resident, we being very sensitive to such things. The letter also pointed out that cremation makes sense since we are an increasingly mobile society and putting someone in a local cemetery when there is a good possibility that family members will move to a different community makes cremation preferable. Presumably that is because one can, when moving, be accompanied by the ashes if one has not chosen to distribute them. The letter contains other helpful information such as letting the recipient know that by signing up now one locks in the price and avoids something known as “upselling” which does not gain you a better seat in the hereafter but apparently is something that is done to get you to pay more for the arrangements at the decedent’s death because the family is not in a good emotional place for bargaining. The letter has a footnote asking the recipient to “accept our apologies if this letter has reached you at a time of serious illness or death in your family.” That seems a bit odd since would seem to be the very time that such offer would be most valuable.

The other enclosure is a card that advises the recipient that the free cremation offered on the outside of the envelope is in fact only an opportunity to participate in what is known as a “Cremation Sweepstakes.” That is not a race to see who is the first to qualify for a cremation. It is a drawing from all the cards that are returned and the card drawn qualifies the winner for a free cremation. Often such offers are accompanied by a time limit within which the winner must collect the benefits he or she has won. In this kind of event it might be by a fixed date or during a month when cremations are low. In this particular case, however, there is no suggestion that for the winner to collect, there is any time limit. The winner can collect his or her winnings at leisure.

I’ve not yet decided whether to succumb to the lure of the ad or the offer of cremation. Perhaps I’ll do both. Each is tempting in its own way if the time is right.