By Lynn Ashby 10 Oct. 2016
THE CEMETERY – This is a family reunion, although I shall do all the talking to save your family a lot of trouble and money. My families’ plots hold both my mother’s family next to my father’s. I was just a tad when many of them were laid to rest, so all I remember is the vast amounts of food spread out back at the house. Here is my mother’s father, Walter Lynn Cox. He came to Texas when he was 9 months old in a covered wagon. His wife, Lillian, told me how she used to gather with her little friends on a street corner in East Texas and throw rocks at the “blue bellies” as they rode by on their horses – the Union cavalry. But her tombstone says she was born in 1879, long after Reconstruction was over. Maybe she just bore a grudge.
Have you ever visited your family plot and learned things about your forbearers that you never knew? I knew that my uncle, Walter Lynn Cox, Jr., served in the Marines in WW II, but his tombstone says he also served during the Korean War. I didn’t know that. The wife of a cousin seems to have had a baby who died at birth. My mother was a Daughter of the Republic of Texas, but I see that she was also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. That explains the gold teeth, watches and wigs. All told, I count 16 grave sites. There is still room for more. Like me.
Now start taking notes to make things easier: Does anyone know which bank holds your safety deposit box, and where the key is? How are they going to get their hands on all those silver bars Uncle Cosmo liberated from a Nazi coal mine? Avoid the $250 charge for blowing open the box, and there are complicated laws about opening a safety deposit box after the owner has departed. You don’t have a will? The State of Texas has one for you, but the lawyers will end up with most of your estate. Make sure your will specifies exactly who gets what. “I leave to my worthless daughter and her deadbeat fifth husband my razor and toothpaste.” That will save everyone trouble, and it means your spouse doesn’t have to get rid of your razor and toothpaste. Again, be specific. My son the lawyer says the most vicious, blood sports he handles are family fights over an estate.
Money. How many checkbooks, savings accounts and hidden cash in shoeboxes do you have? Does the IRS know about your accounts in the Cayman Islands? No? Keep it that way. Leave a list of where you hid your fortune, with passwords. If you are like most of us, you have 450 passwords on your computer. Make a list of them, too, and tell everyone exactly where you hid it. “Go to the bathroom and look under the razor and toothpaste.” You have a burglar alarm? Does your next-of-kin know how to turn it on and off? (The last burglar to hit my house looked around and left a small donation.) You probably have a private stock of wine at your club, all locked up. How can your children get to those boxes with their little plastic spigots? Put the code on your list.
Let’s back up and consider that you’re not dead yet, only going. Studies show that relatives spend a vast amount on keeping Grand Pa alive as long as possible, so terminally ill patients are a cash cow for hospitals. I have instructed my family that, when I am too far gone to light a cigar, just pull the plug. You want an obit? That’s journalese for an obituary in the newspaper. Don’t leave it to your hysterical spouse (“He kept talking about the Cayman Islands.”) to figure out just when you won the Nobel Peace Prize. (It’s OK to jazz up your life story, who can correct it?) My own obit is modest, limiting my honorary degrees to 43 and explaining that I donated millions to colleges and hospitals under the pseudonym of “Anonymous.” In my obit, I “died.” Others prefer “Gone to her reward,” “Hit his last tee shot,” and “Entered the Pearly Gates to greet the people she never liked.” Honest, I once read: “In lieu of flowers, please vote for George W. Bush.”
Now we must consider your funeral. Your family is so distraught that they can’t think straight, and will spend too much because funeral homes have their business down to a science. When you walk into the display of caskets, most people automatically turn to the right. That’s the most expensive model. In gradual order, as you walk in a semi-circle to the left, they get cheaper and less ornate. Once you have picked a casket – I have chosen a very nice one stenciled “Kenmore Cold King – this end up” — the costs keep rising with flowers, a huge portrait of the late lamented, music and an emcee. Don’t hire pallbearers, rent a forklift. Some prefer cremation, but I think that might hurt.
Specify that after the funeral, you are throwing a party at the local VFW hall with lots of food and liquor. That assures a good attendance. Where to buy a plot? Avoid any place being touted as “with a great view.” Write your own epitaph and, like the obit, keep it mildly truthful. Thomas Jefferson wrote his own and specified that not one word be changed. It does not mention that he was President, but you may. There was a story that a tombstone in Aberdeen, Scotland, read: “Here lies the body of Mary McQueen. She was a virgin at seventeen. A remarkable thing in Aberdeen.” While doing some stories there, I went hunting for that epitaph. The cemetery’s caretaker said it was all a tall tale, but added a lot of people went there looking for it.
Ashby defies death at email@example.com