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CSI affiliated cemetery accused of desecrating in excess of 500 graves.
November 23, 2009 8:35 AM   Subscribe

This has not been a good year for SCI, the worlds largest funeral services corporation. Now allegations have surfaced that groundskeepers for Eden Memorial Park were secretly instructed to desecrate graves (possibly in excess of 500 individual bodies) in order to make room.

A class-action lawsuit alleges that Eden Memorial Park and its management Service Corporation International (SCI), instructed groundskeepers to secretly break concrete blocks with a backhoe and then remove, dump and/or discard the remains to make room for new internments.

"The upper management of SCI through acts of intimidation and threatening employees with their jobs and their livelihoods, made significant efforts to keep the public in the dark," said Michael Avenatti, attorney who is handling the class-action lawsuit.


This may just be par for the course.
posted by es_de_bah (80 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, one would expect CSI to exhume bodies, right?
posted by Skeptic at 8:39 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Steve: Not much room for pool is there?
Teague: We own all the land. We have already made arrangements to relocating the cemetery.
Steve: Oh, you're kidding. Oh, come on. I mean that's sacrilege, isn't it?
Teague: Oh, don't worry about it. After all, it's not ancient tribal burial ground. It's just... people. Besides we have done it before.
posted by The Whelk at 8:43 AM on November 23, 2009 [10 favorites]


On the one hand, they're engaging in deceptive practices. On the other hand, something really should be done to get a handle on the practice of elaborate graves for everyone with a bit of money. There's only a finite amount of land and it's totally unrealistic to expect a permanent monument, complete with posh casket. Just dump 'em in the earth with a shroud.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:46 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the bodily remains are irrelevant in Christian tradition. The burial industry is a con even before they start screwing around with corpse double parking schemes.
posted by srboisvert at 8:54 AM on November 23, 2009




Just dump 'em in the earth with a shroud.

Cremation.
posted by DU at 8:55 AM on November 23, 2009


Where's Ozymandias when you need him? He'd know how to put this into perspective.
posted by dortmunder at 8:55 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I don't like the fraud, but I can't get especially worked-up over "mistreatment" of corpses. If you can't just give them back to the earth for sanitary reasons, then you really ought to burn them instead of wasting land with anti-rot caskets and memorials.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:57 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just dump 'em in the earth with a shroud.

Cremation.


Vultures.
posted by enn at 8:58 AM on November 23, 2009


It's behind the paywall now, but the Economist put together an interesting chart about the popularity of cremation compared to burial. Apparently cremation correlates pretty well with the scarcity of land. It's very popular in Japan, for example. I expect it'll only become more popular over time. Even in the US we may have plenty of land but few people want to be buried an hour outside of town.

Of course, cremation is not without its own 'cost-cutting' problems.
posted by jedicus at 9:01 AM on November 23, 2009


I'm pretty sure the bodily remains are irrelevant in Christian tradition.

Actually the Roman Catholic church attempts to actively govern what its flock can and cannot do with the bodies of loved ones post death. Cremation is strongly discouraged. That said, typically cremation is now permitted (but disfavored) so long as the body is present for the funeral.

I find that troubling because it can interfere with the ability to donate organs and/or whole remains for medical or scientific purposes. I had to get a special approval from the church to have a funeral for my daughter when we did a scientific donation followed by cremation. When we then had the Mass service for her, a few people asked me about the body and seemed in a way relieved that we were not going to be agonizing over a tiny coffin.
posted by bunnycup at 9:03 AM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


I would like to be cremated, then fired out of a cannon. I realize that this is impractical and unlikely to occur....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:05 AM on November 23, 2009


I would like to be cremated, then fired out of a cannon.

Hmm. Now, put it the other way around, that should make for awesome showbiz. I'm so changing my will.
posted by Iosephus at 9:09 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Teague: Oh, don't worry about it. After all, it's not ancient tribal burial ground. It's just... people. Besides we have done it before.

"You son of a bitch! You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! YOU ONLY MOVED THE HEADSTONES!"
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:10 AM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Needs salt.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:11 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wanna be pushed out a plane over Nunavut so the remaining polar bears can gnaw my corpse.

(sorry polar bears)
posted by edgeways at 9:14 AM on November 23, 2009


Cremation is only marginally better than burial in terms of "dignity." Mary Roach's book Stiff does a pretty good job of detailing what happens to your body once you pop your clocks, and none of the options are overly "dignified." In all, there's a pretty strong case for donation to science.
posted by The White Hat at 9:15 AM on November 23, 2009


This kind of thing is why I'm getting cremated. Though I like the idea of green burials.

There is a funeral home on I-35 south of Dallas that used to have a billboard "Perpetual Care Till the End of Time." Which made me laugh hysterically, picturing a bubble-encased graveyard floating in space until the heat-death of the universe.
posted by emjaybee at 9:19 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I die, I'm totally going Weekend at Bernie's style.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:21 AM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


The thing with cremation is that you're denying future sentient beings from precious fossil fuels made from your decomposed corpses.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:23 AM on November 23, 2009


In all, there's a pretty strong case for donation to science.

True, but I don't think it's something that everyone can do. There are only so many cadavers needed for dissection and the like every year. I'm sure Harvard would like more brains, but if everyone donated then I think they'd have more than they knew what to do with post haste. And of course dissection is not destruction; the remains still have to go somewhere at the end of Gross Anatomy.

Organ donation is something everyone should sign up for (well, maybe not folks with chronic, communicable diseases), but the organs aren't always viable. And of course there's still the matter of what to do with the non-transplantable parts. And what about when the recipient passes away? I suppose it's possible for an organ to be donated more than once but eventually the chain will end for one reason or another.

So even if everyone were completely willing to give their remains to any and all scientific uses, there would still be a need for some kind of disposal of the rest.
posted by jedicus at 9:23 AM on November 23, 2009


So even if everyone were completely willing to give their remains to any and all scientific uses, there would still be a need for some kind of disposal of the rest.

SGiP!
posted by Burhanistan at 9:23 AM on November 23, 2009


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: bury me in a flimsy shroud, no embalming, with my hands holding an apple. In thirty years, come back to my gravesite and pick a ripe one from the tree.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:24 AM on November 23, 2009 [22 favorites]


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: bury me in a flimsy shroud, no embalming, with my hands holding an apple. In thirty years, come back to my gravesite and pick a ripe one from the tree.

Apples are people! PEOPLE!
posted by dortmunder at 9:29 AM on November 23, 2009 [8 favorites]


That's a lovely idea infinitewindow-- though I'm not sure the apple would germinate from 3-6 feet down. Perhaps they could halve the apple, one half in your grasp, the other buried just beneath the surface.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2009


I want it either like infinitewindow, or cremated and made into an artificial diamond, which should then be quietly used by one of my brother's kids (probably the older boy of the twins) as part of the engagement ring he presents to his fiancee.

(I mean, I get to screw DeBeers AND become a family heirloom. It's a dream come true.)
posted by mephron at 9:40 AM on November 23, 2009


Those interested in the topic will enjoy Jessica Mitford's 1963 classic exposé of the funeral industry. Highly readable.
posted by applemeat at 9:40 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apples are people! PEOPLE!
posted by applemeat at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


This past week my brother died. I called place in nearby state (where he lived and died) for cremation. Price much higher than I expected, but actual cremation cost not at all expensive, and was in addition. I was told I had to go to the funeral home and sign affidavit...so I called a place in my state. Prices 3 times higher! Called another funeral home in my brother's state. Same price but I was required to go to hospital and identify the body. Called another place. Out of business.
Call another. Much better price(s) for cremation and funeral home AND I got the next day, papers expressed to me to fill out (no trip to other state) and when all was done I could phone in credit card number, and then, when cremation took place, remains (cremains) would be mailed to me.

In sum: it is a jungle out there. Try not to die for the sake of your survivors.
posted by Postroad at 9:45 AM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I would like to be cremated, then fired out of a cannon.

I would like to be taken out to around the Oort cloud, converted to antimatter, and punched back into Earth at around .999999999C so my relativistic mass is vaguely Jovian.

It's the only way to be sure.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:50 AM on November 23, 2009 [9 favorites]


I want to be sent off with a Viking-style sea pyre; stick me on a wooden boat and burn it to ashes around me as I float out to sea. Barring that, I want my skull bronzed and used as a hood ornament.

(As these are both unlikely to be allowed anywhere near anyplace I might die, I'll settle for donation to science followed by cremation.)
posted by Caduceus at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2009


Sincerest condolances, Postroad
posted by bitteroldman at 10:01 AM on November 23, 2009


My stepmother bought my dad a gravesite and a coffin for his 60th birthday.

He seemed to think it was a gift, and not a threat.
posted by kathrineg at 10:06 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would like to be cremated, then fired out of a cannon.

Hunter S. Thompson, is that you?
posted by adamdschneider at 10:07 AM on November 23, 2009


I don't believe in cremation. I have no qualms being fired out of a cannon, though.
posted by boo_radley at 10:09 AM on November 23, 2009


I'm sorry for your loss, Postroad.

If you are very practical alike my grandmother, you can make all your arrangements beforehand. She has her coffin, burial plot, and service picked out and paid for already, as she lets us know from time to time. She talks about her coffin kind of like how other folks might talk about a new Caddy. It's strange, but not as morbid as it sounds.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:10 AM on November 23, 2009


It's strange, but not as morbid as it sounds.

It's a great way to prepare. Better to have everything all paid for and spelled out so grieving relatives can just show up to the memorial services instead of having to grapple with possible rip-off artist funeral homes when they're emotionally vulnerable.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:23 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


My dad always said to just toss him in the dumpster after he dies. I should probably get that in writing lest they start asking questions when I show up with a heavy burlap sack.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 10:27 AM on November 23, 2009


There is no danger of running out of land for cemeteries. Here are two ways of making sure of that.

Due to Christian antisemitism, the people of Josefov (the Jewish quarter of Prague) were prohibited from burying their dead outside of their densely populated urban area. Their solution: every century or so, add a new layer of dirt to their tiny cemetery. The bodies remain undisturbed, but the tombstones become increasingly complex; some tombstones have as many as a dozen names on them, reflecting the many layers of the dead buried beneath. The Old Jewish Cemetery.

The cemetary at Sedlec was reported to have been sprinkled with soil from Golgotha by the local abbot, who'd been on pilgrimage to Palestine. Huge numbers of people wanted to buried in this small patch of unusually sacred ground. Their solution: use the dirt nap just as a way of cleaning the flesh off the bones. To make room for new funerals, they exhumed the bones. To dispose of the bones in a somewhat sacred way, they built a church out of them. The Sedlec Ossuary

Apparently, nobody knows how to handle their dead like the Czechs.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:31 AM on November 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


I am partial to Hundertwasser's plan for a cemetery or "garden of the happy dead," as he called it. No embalming, bodies are buried standing up to use the space most efficiently. The first body is buried in the center of the garden, and each additional body is buried in a spiral radiating out from the center. The idea is that by the time you reach the edge of the spiral you can use the center plot again.
posted by stinker at 10:32 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apparently, nobody knows how to handle their dead like the Czechs.

Wow, looks like I have some vacation planning to do.
posted by bunnycup at 10:45 AM on November 23, 2009


California officials find no evidence of mass desecration at Jewish cemetery

Somebody pasted this entire article verbatim into the company's wikipedia page.
posted by anazgnos at 10:54 AM on November 23, 2009


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: bury me in a flimsy shroud, no embalming, with my hands holding an apple. In thirty years, come back to my gravesite and pick a ripe one from the tree.

That's lovely, but only if your survivors have purchased a plot first. One that lets you plant trees.

Laws about where you can bury people vary, folks. Do your survivors a solid and make your arrangements ahead of time. Because funeral homes are like car lots for the dead, and you do not want to deal with that when you're grieving.

(and thanks, Mom and Dad, for having everything taken care of before you went).
posted by emjaybee at 10:56 AM on November 23, 2009


This could have...

(PUTS ON SUNGLASSES)

Grave consequences....

YEEEEEEAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:00 AM on November 23, 2009 [13 favorites]


"You son of a bitch! You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! YOU ONLY MOVED THE HEADSTONES!"

I love that quote. It's a prank I have always wanted to pull, and I wrote about it in a recent column:

Renee Tessman of KARE11 tells the suitably Halloweeninsh tale of a group of houses in Newport that have unaccountably started shaking. Nobody seems to have much explanation for it, and it only affects a row of houses along one block; neighbors, a block away, feel nothing. If we at the Daily Glean had the money, we would hire Craig T. Nelson to knock at the doors of the houses and, when the owner answers, shake them and say, "You moved the cemetery, but you left the bodies, didn't you?"
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:01 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know why nobody thinks of this, but I'm planning to sidestep all of these issues by not dying.

Yep. That's the plan.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:12 AM on November 23, 2009


I've explained to my father that I plan to have him taxidermied in an attack pose and I'll keep him in the living room corner as a conversation piece. He seemed pretty pleased about it.

I plan to be cremated, I think, as long as we can find a sufficiently moderately priced receptacle.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:17 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


My dad has asked to be stuffed, and mounted upright in a "rawr! grizzly!"-style pose. However, I have advised him I plan to have him cut open so we can harvest the solidified sopressata*, salami and other fine Italian cured meats he's been socking away in his arteries for years. Surprisingly, he seemed to be ok with it.**

(* yes, I'm quite positive it's not still going to be in sopressata format, but a girl can dream, no? You're talking about a man who treats salami as a side dish...)

(** we have a tendency to be a little morbid in our family, but funny, too)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:17 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


On publish...hey, Mrs. Pterodactyl -- our dads should, like, have a secret club or something!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:18 AM on November 23, 2009


Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die.
posted by kathrineg at 11:19 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


On publish...hey, Mrs. Pterodactyl -- our dads should, like, have a secret club or something!

Definitely -- after they are both stuffed and mounted we can get them together for chats and dress them up seasonally as reindeer or pilgrims or just like as Sherlock Holmes and Watson or something. I think it would be a nice alternative to the seasonal flags some people hang out of their windows.

(My family is also reasonably morbid but pretty funny.)
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:28 AM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of a funny story.

In the mid 90's my (Dutch) family briefly lived in the US, my dad was working for a Dutch oil company and we were living in a suburb of Houston, Tx. Now, both my parents speak English fluently and my father did his tertiary education in the US, but they are not native speakers. Most particularly, they were not familiar with the great messy nest of euphemism that American English uses around death and the dead.

So, one day a salesman comes to the house. Apparently dad had contacted him on the strength of an advertisement he'd seen regarding land for sale. (coming from Western Europe, per acre land prices virtually anywhere between the Rockies and the Mississippi seem too good to be true).

Anyway, this guy starts off on his sales patter, and some questions go back and forth:
Dad: So, can I build anything on it? What are the planning restrictions?
Salesman: Well, the usual really. You can build small structures, as long as they're appropriate
Dad: What about the neighborhood, is it nice and quiet
Salesman: Oh yes, very peaceful
Dad: What about entertainment, what is there to do for fun around there
Salesman:......
Dad: I mean, we're not the types to lay around all day
Salesman: !!!

Eventually it all go resolved, the poor chap was selling cemetery plots, but the words "cemetery" or "funeral" or that sort of thing were nowhere to be found on the advertisements. To an American, it would have obvious what it was (it was called something like "Eternal Peace Plots") but to someone not familiar with the semiotics of American death, it was fairly opaque.
posted by atrazine at 11:35 AM on November 23, 2009 [15 favorites]


am I really the only one who wants to be stuffed with a shocked look on my face and my hands up in a defensive posture and stood in my living room next to the fica plant? really?
posted by shmegegge at 11:40 AM on November 23, 2009


Mrs. Pterodactyl, it's better than those stupid concrete geese, that's for sure! (My dad's got an enormous white beard...I'm thinking Santa is a no-brainer come December).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:49 AM on November 23, 2009


My dream is to one day anger the Russian Orthodox Church so much that they shoot my ashes toward Poland from a cannon.
posted by lauranesson at 12:25 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


1. The burial industry is a con even before they start screwing around with corpse double parking schemes.

2. Better to have everything all paid for and spelled out so grieving relatives can just show up to the memorial services instead of having to grapple with possible rip-off artist funeral homes when they're emotionally vulnerable.

3. Because funeral homes are like car lots for the dead, and you do not want to deal with that when you're grieving.

I usually avoid commenting in threads like this because comments fall into two camps: a. I want a viking funeral and b. just dump my body in a ditch. But I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that not every funeral home is run by SCI and most funeral directors are caregivers and not used car salesmen. Please don't disparage an entire group of death-care professionals based on the actions of an unscrupulous few. I try very hard to provide dignified and loving care for every family I serve. And I make no judgments based on final disposition requests. You want to be buried in a shallow grave? Sure. Do you have some property available? You want to be blasted from a cannon? Excellent. Let's work together to find one. Want to donate your skull to a theater group for performances of "Hamlet?" I've already done the legwork for you.
posted by ColdChef at 12:33 PM on November 23, 2009 [21 favorites]


A few months before she unexpectedly passed away, my wife and I were discussing stuff like organ donation and such. Her thought on it was "When I'm dead, I'm nothing but meat! Why should I care what happens to what's left? Of course I want my parts to be of use to someone else if possible! Duh."

When the organ donation people called, I told them "Please, take everything you can use. We already talked about this months ago." It was a no-brainer and required zero thought. We had a closed-casket funeral with lots of pictures.

This is also why I'm not bothered by using the tub/shower where I found her, every day when I'm getting ready for work. What I found in there wasn't my wife, it was just a body, just meat. Sure, it's a harsh way to look at it - but SHE was common-sense, and down-to-earth when needed, too. She would have said "Oh, shut up. Quit being silly and take a shower. You stink, and you're not pretty when you cry."
posted by mrbill at 12:40 PM on November 23, 2009 [18 favorites]


I demand to be put into an unstable low-earth orbit upon my death.
posted by GuyZero at 12:48 PM on November 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: You stink, and you're not pretty when you cry.
posted by ooga_booga at 1:00 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Once I'm gone I want my wife to pull my remaining teeth, cut the tips of my fingers off, take a marker and write NOT GOOD AFTER: (recently passed date) on my forehead and toss my ass in the dumpster behind the local grocery store.
posted by metagnathous at 1:05 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


I want to go to NoLa and be taken care of by ColdChef!
posted by tippiedog at 1:17 PM on November 23, 2009 [7 favorites]


My friends and I have long discussed the Viking funeral. But we are kinda trash, so it would end up being held at some small lake, and probably using a boat made out of pallets and empty 55 gallon drums. This would help though, because we figured we could leave some gas in them, that way when I'm set adrift, and the party on the shore heats up to really Bacchian levels, someone can turn to the water and fire a flare gun at my remains sending up a mighty fireball to the sky.

Of course, we decided this would probably not be a good idea, because the combination of booze, water, gasoline and flare guns would pretty much guarantee that mine was not the only funeral that night.

Now I'm content with pulling out anything useful, cremating the rest and using me to grit the driveway come winter.

I'm dead, I couldn't care less what happens to my remains. It's not like I'll take offense if you do it wrong.
posted by quin at 1:52 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Stuff me and place me on the surface of Mars atop a plaque reading "BEHOLD THE FOLLY OF MAN."
posted by The Whelk at 2:10 PM on November 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Speaking of remains tinkering, I for one just don't want anyone auctioning off my location once what is left after organ donation is planted.
posted by bearwife at 2:24 PM on November 23, 2009


<--is wondering what all this preoccupation with what happens to your body has to do with anything. I can tell you what happens when you die!

First, when you die, your brain shuts down and your all your organs...relax. Then a bunch of people stand around you looking worried. Then they dig a hole, put you in a box, then put the box in the hole. After they put you in the hole, they throw dirt on your face and then stand around arguing about where to go eat.

And that is what happens when you die.
posted by bam at 2:43 PM on November 23, 2009


usually.
posted by bam at 2:44 PM on November 23, 2009


I would like to be scattered from a plane over my hometown.

But not, like, cremated or anything.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:22 PM on November 23, 2009 [12 favorites]


People, we have to abandon this morbid and antiquated notion of burying our bodies whole...which is disgusting to begin with.

Cremation, folks, tell your SO and family members now so that there's no doubt, and make sure to put it in your will. Have your ashes scattered at the location of your choice. Or sit in an urn in your kids' livingroom. On second thought, scratch the urn idea--that's gross, too.
posted by zardoz at 3:47 PM on November 23, 2009


On my last trip to my hometown, my sister and I accompanied my maternal grandmother (who does not have her funeral planned, as far as I know) to her family plot for a visit. There are about thirty graves there, from my great-grandmother Pearl who died at 90 to my great-aunt who died before she was named, all the way back to Cyrus who died before the Civil War. Grandma became more animated while she was there, telling my sister and me stories about everyone there. Again, strange, but not as morbid as it sounds.

I miss family plots. People who don't accompany their relatives on a visit to beloved relations can miss out on a lot of interesting history. This thread is making me wonder about the status of the family plot, and if it could accept newcomers... and trees somewhere down the line.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:50 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


True, but I don't think it's something that everyone can do. There are only so many cadavers needed for dissection and the like every year. I'm sure Harvard would like more brains, but if everyone donated then I think they'd have more than they knew what to do with post haste. And of course dissection is not destruction; the remains still have to go somewhere at the end of Gross Anatomy.

Funny diseases take lots of individual organs to make a good sample size. My mom died of Progressive Supranuclear Palsey, which is like the suck-ass love child of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. She willed her whole wiring harness - brain and spinal cord - to Indiana University which has a big-ass Movement Disorder research facility, and the rest went to her local medical school to teach kids to cut. We got her back in a coffee can like three or four months later, though it can take up to a year and a half. It was so worth it not to waste 150 cubic feet on a dead person, when that land could be part of a garden, a park, a baseball field or a forest. So proud of my mom.

OTOH, good point infinitewindow. There's a family plot on my dad's side and I learned a lot just by googling the names therein, along with the church. however, you can also park your ashes at a cremation society chapel, which is both compact and accessible, and has the equivalent of a family plot in the, I guess, family cabinet. much cooler than it sounds.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:39 PM on November 23, 2009


I want my body to go back to earth and feed things. The spot where I'm put doesn't have to be reserved for only that for evermore, that's kind of crazy. I'm not so sure about the cremation thing -- it seems a waste of what there will be in my remains that will become a next form of life.

.

when god lets my body be

from each brave eye shall sprout a tree
fruit that dangles therefrom

the purpled world will dance upon
between my lips which did sing

a rose shall beget the spring
that maidens whom passion wastes

will lay between their little breasts
my strong fingers beneath the snow

into strenuous birds shall go
my love walking in the grass

their wings will touch with her face
and all the while shall my heart be
with the bulge and nuzzle of the sea

- e e cummings
posted by namasaya at 8:49 PM on November 23, 2009


e. e. cummings was cremated and his ashes buried.
posted by ColdChef at 9:04 PM on November 23, 2009


Howdy all, been enjoying the banter. One interesting note:
I was expecting a little (like at least SOME) calls of "that's monstrous!" I'm kinda surprised that this has mostly been discussion of personal burial choices and family stories. I guess on a certain level, it's impossible to not consider events so directly related to death on a personal level.

Still, regardless of one's individual beliefs or attitudes towards the hereafter and the proper treatment of the recently bereft, look at it this way: These people were paid and entrusted with the remains of people's loved ones. Legal promises were made about regarding these remains as sacred. I guess I'm surprised that there's a lot of jokes without an equal measure of outrage. Perhaps it's just that death makes folks uneasy, and it's perfectly natural to respond cavalierly.

I'm not really trying to judge or be a buzz-kill, I just find mefi's response to the post interesting and unexpected.
posted by es_de_bah at 9:27 PM on November 23, 2009


I don't care what they do otherwise, but I would like one of my shod feet (random selection) to be left on an unobtrusive bit of BC coastline.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:34 PM on November 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


I assumed it would be small pieces flushed away with a lot of bleach for me... :)

But seriously, my wife and I discussed such things recently, and we felt that while we'd both ultimately prefer to be disposed of with a minimum of fuss, that while the our girls are young, if the worse should happen, then we should have a traditional burial. We thought that this might be more tangible for them, and maybe easier to understand. That this company can be so cavalier about peoples mortal remains seems outrageous to me, and the general sentiment expressed here, that it shouldn't be a big deal, people put too much stock in these things anyway, seems, well, callous. People do put stock in such things, for a whole raft of reasons, and I don't think they should be so casually dismissed.
posted by adamt at 2:39 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


All this talk of family plots reminds me I've got one, and it's filled with nothing but (my surname-d) people who were among the first settlers here...though that means spending bodily eternity in southern Ohio and the hell with that. Scatter me in Maine, please.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:40 AM on November 24, 2009


e. e. cummings was cremated and his ashes buried.

I see by your profile that you're an undertaker, ColdChef. I hope you're a very good one, and I don't doubt there are many.

Green burial didn't exist in 1962 when cummings died — one year before the publication of Jessica Mitford's still-searing condemnation of the funeral business, The American Way of Death Her update of the book in 1998 is described as "almost unforgivably funny" in its "incredible description of how undertakers in the U.S. assault people's souls and wallets." SCI figures prominently.

Being buried with all the excess, waste and fakery of a traditional American casket is about as far removed from the cummings poem as anything I can imagine. Maybe that made cremation look pretty good.
posted by namasaya at 6:41 AM on November 24, 2009


I'm sorry to post off-topic, like everyone else here. I just looked at the FPP and thought - "dominant culture grave desecration...eh, who cares. Let's keep talking about why cemeteries are stupid and wasteful." OTOH, thanks, es_de_bah for facilitating that conversation.
More seriously, while I understand the gravity of people paying to enter into a legal contract and then having those terms broken by the other party, I suggest that the direction of the conversation has less to do with people's discomfort with talking about death and more to do with their discomfort in trying to talk to other people (wishes known or unknown) about why their expectations about what should be done with their remains are at best unsustainable and at worst unethical, given the expansion of population and developed space in the world. it's easy for me and my husband to say to each other, "what gives us the right to expect to take up 50 square feet that might be better used for food production or conservation or public use;" it's quite another thing to say the same thing to a relative, an acquaintance or a stranger, whose quite natural response would be, "because I can, and because I paid for it."
I think the purpose of the direction of the conversation is to persuade, without arguing the specific point, that disposing of human remains without bodily burial of indefinite term is a much more civilized option.
but that's just me
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:53 AM on November 24, 2009


I'd have a lot to say, but I'm on vacation, and I'm trying to leave work at the office. Oh, screw it...

I work at a non-profit. Our primary focus is on the death care industry and end of life planning. Every year, I talk to about 10,000 people on the phone and via email about this stuff. The number one problem I see, day in and day out? Families that don't talk to each other about this stuff and parents that are afraid to teach their children about it. More on that later.

I visited my parents for the first time in three years last February when I was on my last vacation. During that visit, I sat them both down to have the "death talk." I've talked to them in generalities before, but I could never pin them down to specifics. Remember, I harangue people everyday on the phone to do this, but I hadn't done it myself. I finally found out what my father wants (Masonic funeral and cremation. Scattering to follow.) As for Mom, who was the tougher of the two nuts to crack, I at least found out why she was having such a hard time answering my questions. She doesn't want to be buried, but she's afraid of fire. This goes back to her childhood and a recurring nightmare. We fond a common ground that both of us can live with: When she dies, it's up to me to dispose of the remains as I see fit. The only proviso is that I'm not to tell her what I'm going to do.

A few days after I got back from vacation (and a few days before I was to head into minor surgery), my phone rang quite late. It was Dad. Mom was in the hospital. She had a stroke at the hockey game.

"How bad?" I asked.

"Bad," he said.

In the intial rush of panic, my first thought was, "Jesus Christ, what if she dies? I'm not ready to do a funeral." Of ALL people, I'M not ready to do a funeral?! WTF?! If I'M not ready, for the love of God, who IS? I mean, I do this EVERY DAY.

As I type this, I'm sitting at my Mom and Dad's computer. I'm on vacation and home for Thanksgiving. Mom is sitting in the living room. Her left side is a little wonky, but she's still here. We just finished dinner before I sat down at the computer. During the meal, we had Death Talk, Pt 2. The topics? What happens to Mom if Dad goes first. Where's the will. Are they going to sell the house and move south? Etc.

Based on my job and my personal experiences, here's what I believe to be true:

1. Talk to your family. All of it. Even the kids. Make sure they know what your values are in terms of death and final remains.

2. Be specific, but not picky. "I value simplicity and economy in final arrangements. If my remains can benefit others through donation, then by all means donate whatever can be used. " Is clear and specific. "I want to be buried on a sunny Saturday at the family crypt while a bag piper blows 'Amazing Grace.'" That's picky and fraught with possible complications. (What happens if it rains? What happens if you die in Kulala Lampur? Do we ship the body home? What if we can't find a bag piper?) Clear and simple, kids.

3. Funerals are for the living, not the dead. (Let the living pay tribute to you in their own way... but it wouldn't hurt to give them a few ideas and boundaries.)

4. Write. Shit. Down. After you talk to your family, sit down and write out your final wishes. A will is a good place to keep these, but they should ABSOLUTELY be written down somewhere else as well. Wills and paperwork are often not read until after arrangements are finalized. Fat lot of good that you wrote down that you wanted a simple cremation AFTER your family has already buried you, right? I always suggest writing it down IN THE PRESENCE OF YOUR FAMILY AS/AFTER YOU HAVE YOUR TALK. Give your families copies of you final wishes. Don't "file it where they can find it." (See: A Good Funeal Plan, A Bad Funeral Plan, below)

5. "Prepayment" ≠ "All taken care of." There's a lot of good things that can be said about prepayment. But I have LEGIONS of bad things to say about it. I JUST had a 20 minute conversation with my father about it. Here's one thing that gave my father pause: he wants to prepay now... but he's thinking about selling the house and moving 800 miles south. A bottle of Coke in Syracuse, NY, does precious little to quench a thirst in North Carolina.

6. ColdChef is right. The vast majority of funeral directors are honest businessmen. There are also some real slick tickets roaming around. The trick is... can you tell the difference? (AKA: Learn how to buy a funeral, kids).

To close, I give you A Good Funeral Plan and A Bad Funeral Plan (where the stories are true, but the names have been changed).

Kate was a retired librarian who died at 103. Years before her death, she sat her nieces and nephews down and told them what was important to her for her final arrangements. She was specific enough to be useful and general enough to be flexible. When she had finished speaking with them, she wrote out her wishes in the form of a letter to each. The letter was dated, signed and witnessed by two people at her nursing home. In it, she specified:

A. Cremation.
B. Followed by scattering in "an apprporaite place."
C. At a time of their convenience, she'd like a memorial service, where the attendees brought their favorite books and read aloud to each other.

Compare this to...

Mr. Smith was concerned with sparing his only daiughter, Lisa, the burdens of funeral planning and payment. In 1973, Mr. Smith prepaid for a cremation with XYZ funeral home, but didn't bring it up to his daughter. Time passed, and Mr. Smith apparently went a little forgetful. In 1986 he prepaid for ANOTHER cremation at ABC funeral home. He still didn't talk to his daughter about it. Mr. Smith died in 2006. His daughter, having no instructions or teaching to the contrary, did what 'everyone' does and what she thought Dad wanted: she gave him a full, traditional American funeral and burial... to the tune of $17,000. When Lisa found the paperwork for the prepayments and my organization's info in her father's files, she called me for clarification. After I told her what had apparently happened... she laughed. I was a bit taken aback. After all, I just told this woman that she needlessly spent $17K. "Well," she said, " I chalk it up to a very expensive lesson. You see, I'm a lawyer, and you can BET that this story is going to be brought up with all of my clients when they do estate planning and will writing."

Atta girl, Lisa.

Now, if you'll excuse me from this busman's holiday, I'm going to go in and watch TV with my Mom.
posted by Vavuzi at 6:34 PM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


Eh, if I pass at home, my cats will be feasting on fresh PITW within 30 minutes. And that's just fine with me. These guys give me the inspiration to keep on truckin' in an insane world, and a 200 pound sack of meat is the least I can offer my buddies. (Siamese sizes me up, kneads me for added tenderness, licks chops).
posted by porn in the woods at 12:44 AM on November 26, 2009


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