I spoke to my wife, Sylvia, about prearranging our funeral. She wanted no part of it. I told her how important it was for us because I had experience burying four members of my family, and I want to spare her the anguish, grief and pain of such an ordeal. I wanted to make our wake and funeral events and our burials something we could control while we are still alive, something memorable, humorous, and unforgettable. We are both in our 60’s, so the final exit is not as far away as it once was.
I had to convince Sylvia that it would be a benefit for both of us to plan now for our eternal future.
First, we had to purchase a plot. Sylvia loves gardening, so, we decided to purchase a plot in a cemetery that was a garden. We decided a non-sectarian cemetery would be preferable for us, a cemetery that was not only a garden, but also a cemetery with trees, rolling hills, meadows. We wanted a plot on a hill under a tree with a commanding view and an upstanding memorial.
We purchased just the right plot, Section 8, Division C, Plot 7, Grave 11. It is under a huge towering golden oak tree high on a hill top blanketed by wild garlic plants and variegated flowers. We fell in love with the spot! We now own a plot of land in a garden in New York City. From time to time, we would visit our plot. Now we had to purchase a stone, a memorial fitting such a bucolic setting.
We purchased an ebony marble standing tombstone, the stone in the shape of an open book. In fact, it is titled “The Book of Life.” We had the stone engraved. The stone reads, “Hello – Take a Seat – Stay a While.” Every time the sun shines on our stone, it creates a mirrored image of the flowers and garlic that surround it. We are now both very pleased with our purchases. Yes, Sylvia always wanted a garden. We visit our plot often. Sylvia works on gardening and I sit under a tree reading poetry.
Now, we had to decide on arranging our prepaid funerals. We visited a funeral parlor on Northern Boulevard in Flushing, Queens to choose a natural, attractive and comfortable casket. We chose cherry-wood caskets; I have a reverence for wood; Sylvia loves cherries. I wanted to try the casket out for size and comfort. The funeral director would have no part of this; I was persistent; Sylvia was embarrassed. I told the funeral director, if I could not try it out, I would go somewhere else. I wanted to test it. After all, I will be spending the rest of my other life in it lying in repose. Finally, he yielded to my request, but pleaded that we keep it a secret. Sylvia was aghast. I explained to her I wanted to be comfortable for my sleep of eternity.
I climbed into my future home and requested a fluffy lining to fit my size, needs and comfort. He accommodated me. Inside the casket was like being in a hammock, easy to climb in, hard to get out. I could hear my own heart beat. And then I almost fell asleep. Sylvia demanded I get out immediately. Then she asked if I was comfortable. Sylvia said she couldn’t look at me in that position in a casket.
We finally purchased two of them. We then arranged for our wakes and funeral events. Sylvia just wanted a quiet, elegant wake with a traditional funeral and burial with many colored flowers. I told the funeral parlor director I wanted my wake to be a poetry reading event. Everybody who attends my funeral must read a poem. Vanilla incense and music will accompany the viewing. After the wake, everyone will be served champagne with strawberries and whipped cream.
At Life After Death Cemetery, everyone will be given a black Mickey Mouse hat with big ears and different colored balloons. On my grave, a Langston Hughes’s poem, “Not What Was” will be read, as well as two poems written by me. After the burial, everyone will sing the Mickey Mouse song and let the colored balloons go.
Vincent J. Tomeo is a poet, archivist, historian, and community activist. For 32 years, he was a New York City public high school teacher of American History. He presently volunteers at the 9/11 Museum. Vincent has been published in the New York Times, Comstock Review, Mid-America Poetry Reviews, EDGZ, Spires, Tiger’s Eye, Byline, Mudfish, The Blind Man’s Rainbow, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, The Latin Staff Review, and Grandmother Earth.