Choosing my loved one’s casket is just like buying a car

Credit: Wiki Commons. Credit: Wiki Commons.

Let me preface this column by saying no one is dead. Well, at some point, we will all be dead, but no one I am writing about is, as yet, deceased.

That is why it was weird to be pre-planning a funeral. For financial reasons, I needed to set aside money and pay for the funeral of a loved one. Who is not yet dead. I know it makes fiscal sense, but it felt rather odd. It also felt a bit rude, like planning a big party but not inviting the guest of honor.

Pre-planning this funeral has been on my “To Do” list for a long time. Not surprisingly, I kept putting it off. There just never was a day when I awoke and thought: “Say! I think I feel like picking out a casket!”

But I finally made myself do it. I selected a Mayfair funeral home that is well-known and near where my family grew up. When I visited the home one day the funeral director was very kind and told me it was better to make all these decisions now, then after the death when I’ll be stressed and upset.

First, I had to fill out some paperwork. I looked to my left and noticed a line of paper bags filled with cardboard boxes. It dawned on me what might be in the boxes.

“Um, are those people?” I asked.

“Yes, those are cremated remains,” he answered.

“Hello,” I said, waving at the cremains.

It felt rude not to.

Next I had to pick out a Mass card. My choices included Catholic saints, pictures of Jesus praying, pictures of Jesus with a shiny halo, and Jesus with a bleeding, open-chest wound which displayed his pierced, glowing heart.

Listen, I went through 16 years of Catholic school (St. Timothy’s elementary school, Saint Basil Academy and Villanova University) but even I think a bleeding, glowing heart is too much. Especially on a laminated plastic card.

Instead, I got St. Patrick on one side of the card and the Irish blessing on the other. Then we discussed the church, the obituary and the burial plot.

After that came the strangest part – picking out a casket. I decided the best way to get through it was to act like I was buying a car. And most of my cars have been economy models. The person for whom I planned the funeral is a penny-pincher and wouldn’t want something fancy.

The funeral director showed me a beautiful wood casket that gleamed. I stared in awe. Then I realized I liked it because it looked like something that should go in my living room, not in the ground.

Moving on. I asked to see the cheapest casket. Nope. It looked and felt like tin. I believe in “economy” models, but not that extreme. I finally chose something equivalent to the Hyundai of caskets, but a nice Hyundai – like the Elantra I drive.

Last, I selected a grave liner, which seemed silly. But apparently it is required in the cemetery where the funeral plot is located.

So pre-planning a funeral is off my To Do list and “Meet George Clooney” can go back at the top. And when the sad day finally comes, at least I can gaze upon St. Patrick’s face instead of Jesus’ bleeding, glowing heart.

Kathryn Quigley is an Associate Professor of Journalism at Rowan University and a native Philadelphian. She can be reached at

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