Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fiberboard versus Metal Caskets....

Making Cremation arrangements should not be funny. But, it was this week. With Gary's pending death and all that I am going through, I decided it prudent to make arrangements in advance of his actual death.  So, I made an appointment at the mortuary and told the man on the phone what I wanted.

I arrived a little early to the appointment and was put in a room eerily similar to the one where we made my Dad's arrangements just a few short months ago.  While I waited, I searched around the offerings for urns, ash-art choices, etc.  I noticed their choices in that room were limited compared to what I had viewed in Virginia.

As the funeral director entered, we had an instant humorous connection and he made the process easier.  I was determined to stay light hearted and business-like rather than a weepy near-widow.  He seemed amazed.

I told him that I wanted a cremation with ashes split 5 ways.  He said that we needed to start with filling in all blanks on the death certificate form.  I knew all the information off the top of my head and we proceeded to the forms about the cremation itself.  First, the state requires the body to go to the crematorium in an appropriate box/casket. 

He pulled a list of prices for caskets ranging from $6800 down to $95.  He quickly pointed to the bottom of the page and recommended the $95 "fiberboard" box.  I must have had an unusual expression and he asked if there was a problem.  I said, "Is it ok to cremate my husband of 31 years in a cardboard box?"  He argued the fiberboard is not cardboard and that no one would see the box except for the mortuary and the crematorium.  The concept really bothered me and he picked up on the emotion and opted to show me pictures of the choices. 

I was right.  The recommended choice was similar to the many moving boxes we used over the years to move our household.  Plain, brown with no liner.  I giggled a bit as the picture was so awkward.  I asked that the next version of the casket priced at $295 looked like.  As he turned the page to show me the picture he said, " Its a brown box painted blue."  All of a sudden, the whole process was surreal and humorous. 

I switched the topic briefly to ask about the urn sitting on his desk.  He pointed out that it was a standard size.  He used that moment to twist the subject back to the brown box.  "Besides Ma'am, if you choose one of the fancier wood or metal caskets, they and the ashes don't fit in the urn here."  Really?  Ok, we will take the "fiberboard" casket.

The next portion of the form was about the location where the ashes would be stored or scattered.  I told him that part would be put in San Francisco Bay, part over Yosemite and split three ways into artwork for myself, Heather and Gary Jr.  He had one sculpture to choose from that was way too large for what I wanted.  We decided that I would find some online and send him the information as apparently, they have to split the ashes.

He then asked if Gary had any metal pieces in his body that we had to be aware of during the cremation.  I pictured the furnace encountering the metal and blowing or causing some type of injury to the workers.  I answered that he had a pin in his wrist and one in his ankle from a motorcycle accident years ago. He said, "Oh, nothing large like a rod?"  I finally asked why it was a problem. He answered that the small pins would not pose a problem.  He indicated that the large pieces of metal also don't fit in the urn and they have to sift them out at the crematorium.  Again, it was humorous as there is so much the commoner does not know about the process.

Then he asked if I would be bringing clothes to dress Gary in before the cremation.  I said, "Heck no.  Gary was an old hippie and would prefer to be naked!"  He understood and wrote "naked" in the form.

It was all done.  I walked away with a folder representing the cremation of my husband.  When he dies, Hospice can call the mortuary and they will pick him up.  I just have to pay at the time.

It is all surreal but I feel better knowing the decisions are done. 

After his death, we will have a memorial in Elk Grove and then spread the ashes in the Bay and the rest at his beloved Yosemite. 


  1. Ada, I love that you kept a sense of humor throughout that process, makes it so much easier to bear. My husband, Don, passed away last month and was cremated as well. He will be interred at the national cemetery in Dixon on June 30, with a celebration of life luncheon to follow in Rancho Cordova. We also loved San Francisco and Yosemite! Six years was a long time for him and me both to live with his disease. My prayer for all of us is peace and comfort as we move forward.