It’s been a while since my husband and I made our first wills – really simple ones, meant to cover the bases if we both died and left the kids alone. Appointed guardians? Check. Asset disbursement to said guardians? Check. Okay, we’re done!

More than a decade later it’s time for an update, mostly because we have a slightly more complicated financial situation, but also because my preferences for how I’d like the whole thing to be handled have become more clear as I’ve eased over the crest of 40. Which is why, this unusually sparkly California day in January, I’m on the horn with the local crematorium.

I am connected to the family service counselor. “How can I help you, ma’am?”

“Uh. Yes. Hmmm. Well, I’m updating my will, and, uh, I’d like to be cremated. Can you tell me a bit about what you folks offer?”

“Of course! Yes! I’ll be happy to take care of you!” The family service counselor is cheerful. Competent. Clearly enthusiastic. Kind of like a travel agent – which in a way, I suppose, she is.

We chat for a while about my “needs” and she promises to send me a brochure in the mail that lists all available services. She instructs me to call her just as soon as I receive the packet so she can answer any questions I might have. We express our sincere and effusive pleasure at having spoken to each other and our fervent hope that we will speak again. We hang up, and I have to go lie down for a while, just to recalibrate.

This particular crematorium is part of a beautiful cemetery near my house, the eternal home to many East Bay luminaries and lush with well-tended lawns and flowering trees. I’ve walked there often over the years, with the kids in strollers, with good friends, or alone with my dogs. The place is built into a hill, and when you climb to the top you can enjoy panoramic vistas of the San Francisco Bay.

But I don’t want a spot there, per se. Call me a control freak, but I’ve decided that rather than gently moldering underground for years I’d rather go up in flames, all at once. Besides, a friend of mine wears a beautiful glass pendant embedded with some of her mother’s ashes; I like the idea of reincarnating as jewelry. (Although my boys probably wouldn’t wear necklaces. Huh. Maybe a glass bookmark? Some kind of trivet?)

When the promised information arrives I eagerly tear it open. Turns out your basic burn package at this particular establishment – ceremonial/funeral space not included – runs to about $4K. For your money you get the professional services of the funeral director and staff ($2,550), sanitary care and dressing ($250), use of facilities and staff for viewing ($155), transfer to the facility from place of death ($350), crematory fee ($295), urn ($295…can save costs here with a cardboard container, a steal at $95). There’s other stuff you can add in, like a cremation casket (anywhere from $295 to $695). Oh, and the death certificate costs about $16, plus $11 to file it with the appropriate authorities. If you want a ceremony in their chapel or your place of worship, you can have it – just tack on an extra $4,000.


Who knew dying was so expensive? ‘Course, this place is on the higher end; the Nautilus Society will incinerate California residents for a flat fee of $1495 ($190.00 down! 0% interest monthly payments!) while offers a complete package of just $698.

Funny thing is that investigating all this doesn’t make me feel particularly morbid. (I was more overwhelmed by the counselor’s unmitigated cheer, to tell you the truth.) It’s actually a relief to research these details, on par with getting a filling taken care of at the dentist. Refinance completed? Yep. Kid’s soccer tryout registration paid? Got it. Cremation station secured? Check.

And we’re done!


About Kate

Things are weird in the wide world -- and like everyone else, most days I'm used to it. But to shake things up for myself, I like to notice and write about stuff that strikes me as both beautiful and strange, fascinating and repulsive, sweet and sour -- like how the steamy, stinky air that comes up from the BART vents at 16th Street Mission reminds me of being twenty-two, apparently immortal, and in love.

6 responses »

  1. Anonymous says:


    Something is in the air; just finished emailing a contemporary about
    all the paperwork necessary for departure, like passport photos and change of currency.

    The thought of an Oakland burial is unsettling, also the Home Depot salesperson you encountered.

    Received an ad not long ago offering me a free cremation which I assume could be returned were it not satisfactory.


  2. Great little article Kate! Love reading your words and perspective!!

  3. sweetmother says:

    reincarnated as jewelry. oh, lawd, i loved, loved.

  4. jewlee says:

    I would be honored to wear you as a necklace

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