The Final Move: Where Do You Go (Literally) When You Die?
Do location, condition, and view matter when resale won’t be an issue?
Illustration by Chris Reed
Through the years — and moves from New York City to the Midwest, then back to the Hudson Valley — I always plotted my choice of home carefully. But, unlike my parents, I never paid attention to a final resting spot. Like other active, healthy boomers, I imagined myself living forever.
But that changed after my first grandson was born. The night he arrived I couldn’t stop crying, and the tears weren’t just from happiness. For the first time, I faced my mortality head-on. Would I live long enough to witness all the wonderful milestones in his new life, including his wedding day?
When I shared my concerns, friends questioned my sanity. Who thinks like that at such a deliriously gleeful time, they argued, especially since longevity seems to be on my side. My 94-year-old mother still lived alone; my dad had lived until almost 80 before Alzheimer’s stole him away.
With the birth of my grandson, I realized I had dropped the ball. I was no longer young, nor would I live forever. Moreover, I was single. I understood that there are worse things than a dateless New Year’s Eve — being alone in perpetuity trumps that. To resolve the situation, I’d have to weigh all the possibilities on my own. Below- or above-ground casket? Vault, mausoleum — or perhaps cremation? If the latter, should I go with a special urn and inter it, ask one of my children to keep it on the mantel, or have my ashes scattered — and if so, where?
I wasn’t sure if the same rules that I had mastered when buying a home would apply. Would “location” be the benchmark, since resale wasn’t important? How about condition? Would the view matter? Good cemeteries were filling up, and prices for choice grave sites kept climbing. I needed to put down a deposit — but where?
My parents’ family plot is in a bucolic Westchester cemetery where many area temples owned land. I could be side-by-side with my family and friends who played significant roles in my life. The glitch: There was no room for me in their final “neighborhood.” All four plots my parents purchased decades ago are spoken for. I disliked the idea of being rows away.
I asked my closest childhood circle, all boomers, about their plans. I heard the same response: What plans? Susan, a pal since second grade, said her parents occupy slots in a family mausoleum, with her mother sandwiched between her two husbands. She didn’t think there was room for herself and her husband, let alone me. But she’d check.
David, a friend since kindergarten, said his parents were at the same cemetery as my dad. There was room for me, but he and his wife would not be interred there since they live in California and don’t plan to return.
It was time to think outside the box. I asked a close friend in the Midwest if there was room near to where she had buried her husband. She said I could join them, but wondered: “Your kids will never visit you; won’t that bother you?” “Yes,” I replied, but was relieved that I had one option at least that felt comfortable to me.
Before finalizing my decision, I spoke with a friend from my Valley village about her plans. She is from Chicago, but has lived so long in our ’hood that I thought she might prefer to remain… forever. She suggested we gather a diverse group of friends to stay together for all eternity. It sounded like the equivalent of one of our lively dinner parties, but in perpetuity.
That said, it was time to find land: a Hudson River or Catskill Mountains view; shade trees for summer sun and glorious fall colors; and within walking distance of the village we now love. A savvy real-estate salesperson could make a killing by locating the perfect listing. He might even want in. Death is no time to be exclusive: the more, the merrier.
Barbara Ballinger is coauthor of the forthcoming book, The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space (Images Publishing, 2015).