Preparing for death is never easy, particularly when it’s your own death you’re preparing for. I’ve directed enough funerals in my day to know that most people haven’t the foggiest idea about how to prepare for their last stop on the spiritual bus ride through life.
Of course, nobody knows what happens after you die, and thankfully for me, a funeral director, that’s not part of the job description. My job is dealing with the physical world, whether with people who are still alive or the recently deceased. It’s also my job to help make the transition from life to non-life as comfortable as possible. But being a mortician isn’t an easy job, and there’s actually a lot that our clients, both living and dead, can do to make our lives less challenging. Here are some “death hacks” for the living to make my life easier while we’re both still here.
It’s tough to say when exactly you’re going to die. Most people in Western countries tend to live until they’re old, though that’s not true for everybody. Freak accidents happen and incurable diseases break out, but generally speaking, most people anticipate death once the youth has fully drained from their body. If you’re nearing 90, thin as a wisp with tissue-paper skin, it’s time to make pre-arrangements. Don’t leave it up to your horrible adult children to pick out a hymnal for your pitchy granddaughter to sing after you’ve gone. Don’t just assume your spouse knows where you want your cremains to be scattered, or which Yeats poem you want to be recited. Unless you kept extremely detailed records in the style of oh, say, Samuel Pepys or Brett Kavanaugh, don’t let your rites become wrongs.
The next most inconvenient part of funeral directing is making removals. By which, I mean removing the corpse from whatever sad nursing home, condo, or haunted manor the bag of bones du jour decided to croak in. Most old people think they’re being really helpful when they die quietly in the night. But it would be easiest for everyone if you expire during business hours. Waking in the middle of the night to a phone call is almost always a sign that someone has died. Finding out it’s just some rando and not a loved one only slightly sweetens ruining an otherwise restful night.
Next, in the interest of courtesy, please try to be as skinny as possible when you die. Look, this isn’t me trying to shame anybody. In life, bodies of all sizes are beautiful. But in death, bodies of almost every size are difficult to move. The lighter you are, the lighter your corpse will be, and the lighter your corpse, the faster we’ll be able to peel your carcass from wherever you last left it. And note, it’s not just fat people I’m talking about. Even muscle-bound health nuts die. Health freaks have been peddling for ages that muscle weighs more than fat, and that’s never more apparent than when you’re on the floor, crushed to death by a bench press.
Now I understand wanting to look your best, but be aware there are many lighter and cheaper options than head-to-toe mahogany. Most funeral directors won’t tell you this, but the casket matters less than you think. I mean hello, the dead don’t care what they're resting in, so why should you? Besides, no matter how beautiful your Aunt Lynda or Grandpa Sherman looks in the world’s fanciest coffin, it’ll be a huge pain in the ass to move around. Though I do imagine most dearly departed Catholics look down (or up) on their pallbearers with glee as their nephews and sons struggle to schlep their body into the hearse. Not only is cremation a cheaper option, but that way you won’t have to worry about burying a live one (i.e. a heavy sleeper) by accident.
Finally, be sure to brush up on your funeral conduct, or “deadiquette,” before deciding to attend any services. Remember, it’s not a contest for who can be most performatively sad, and if it were, my theatre background would give me the edge. Additionally, showing up late to a funeral can only be forgiven if you’re fashionably late. And even then, it’s gotta be really fashionable. I’m talking a mink and a veil at least, and perhaps even an extra-long cigarette holder. Finally, do not under any circumstances interrupt a funeral procession. Famously, the dead don’t wait for anyone.
I’m hopeful that some of these tips will stick, as you, everyone you know, and the millions of people you don’t know will absolutely all die one day. And when you do die, it likely won’t be a bunch of vultures or your serial killer who see you last before you’re laid to rest for good. It will be me, your friendly neighborhood mortician. And I’m just trying to get by! So if you please, it would be amazing if you kept me in mind during your life for the sake of your death. And in return I’ll do everything I can to ensure you get to have the bury best rest of your life.