Jan 6, 2008

The North Side of the Cemetery

By Liz Adair

I went burial plot shopping last Thursday. I had just been to funeral, but that’s not what put it in my mind. I’ve been thinking about it for some time. I’m sixty-six. My mother died at seventy-three, my dad at seventy-four. I’ve done the math, and the reality is that I need to get some prep work done.

I’ve got three things on my prep list. First is logistical. That’s what put me following a fellow in a four-wheeler down a narrow cemetery road to a block of available spaces. Looking at the older part of the cemetery, I said I wanted to be near some trees, so he obliged, leading me to a newer section that had some saplings that were guyed against the sharp east wind that made me wish I had worn my red knit cap. The unlandscaped addition to the cemetery extended to a section of lower middle class homes, not a great view. But the saplings would grow, I figured, and more trees would be planted. I would be there long enough for the new section to grow as beautiful as the old. I hunched my shoulders against the chill as I jotted down the plot numbers and got the instructions for purchase from the caretaker. Satisfied with progress there, I went home and had a hot cup of spearmint tea.

Next on my prep list is my legacy. I was actually relieved when my publisher rejected the manuscript I sent to them for publication this spring. Had they accepted it, I would have been expected to write another, and that’s a huge bite out of my discretionary time, as I’m still working almost full time. I’m now free to dedicate that time to family history. I have a trunkful and to spare of letters that I want to transcribe and publish for the family. Most of them are letters I have written over a fifty year span (I went away to college when I was still sixteen). My mother saved every one, and I inherited them when she died. My idea is to transcribe them, edit out all the whining, publish with pictures that go with each time period, and leave this to my family. I’ve taken the ANWA 100-words-a-day-for-100-days challenge, and am using it to kick-start the process. (I’ve written about it in the family history blog that Cecily Markland and I have begun at familywriters.blogspot.com.)

Last on my list is divesture. It is my observation that you don’t own things. Rather, things own you, and the more I divest myself of things, the lighter and freer I feel. I don’t want to leave my children with a houseful of junk to contend with.

I think I can accomplish the letter transcription project this year, if I expend the same time on it that I would a novel. If I can do that and get the logistical stuff nailed down, then the rest of my life I can work on divesture as I spin yarns for publication. Makes me smile to think of it, and I wish myself a long, productive life. But if my life doesn’t exceed my mother’s, then that’s all right too. I’ll be ready—after this year, Lord. After this year.


  1. Liz, you are such a delight! And so clever and wise. I'm praying you get as many years as you want, to do the things you want to do...like come to Phoenix and hang out with ANWA ladies...heehee.

    A number a Christmas' ago, my parents gave us the gift of having made their funeral and burial arrangements. Mom told me they purchased one plot and whoever dies first gets the bottom. She figured we would never do that for them because it sounded kind of disrespectful. My ever practical father couldn't see the point of buying to plots when they could get away with one! I love my parents.

  2. Love you, Liz. Who else could be relieved at having a ms rejected? And having burial arrangements already made is a great idea. A dozen or so years ago my husband paid $20 for a burial plot in Franklin, AZ (a suburb of Duncan) with room for four graves. Said it was the best real estate deal he knew. Franklin is where he grew up, where his parents are buried, and where we lived the first couple of years we were married.

    Then a few years ago when Charles was gently nagging me about how we had to save for our funerals, I asked how MUCH we had to save. He didn't know, except it would be lots. So we went to the funeral home in Mesa that our family uses the most. We left with both our funerals paid for, caskets chosen, and nothing left for the kids but flowers and a program. The feeling it left has been amazingly comfortable.

    My only concern is that, while Charles wants to be buried in Franklin, but we could also be buried (free) in the military cemetery in north Phoenix. Franklin is a three or four hour drive east. The national cemetery even provides the marker. I haven't promised either way, nor is Charles really demanding. Maybe we can go together and leave the kids to decide.

    On 'divesture'. What a great word. I think of it as de-cluttering, or getting rid of junk. When we left for a mission in Australia we debated over what to do with our furniture and other possessions. We decided to give it all away--first to our kids. I treasure the wonderful feeling of freedom we both felt as we left with almost everything we owned in our suitcases. We did store a file cabinet and a couple of barrels of stuff in our son's attic.

    However, I turned pack-rat again, and now need to get rid of the boxes and piles of junk that make it difficult to even navigate my rooms. I mustn't leave THAT for my legacy. The laziness that caused it doesn't help my determination to overcome.

    How happy I am to have wonderful mentors like you.

  3. Who knew funeral preparations could be so liberating! I love you guys!

    Having buried my Mother in 2006, I think I would have to agree that pre-planning is a great idea (she didn't pre-plan)! And having lost some really young friends this week, I'd say planning in my 40's is even a better idea!

    Thank you Liz and Anna for being forever enlightening, strong, funny, wise and simply good stock!


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