The Northern Lights have seen queer sights
But the queerest they ever did see,
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
-Robert William Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee
It was only fortuitous but clearly felicitous-the story in the Wall Street Journal about the increasing popularity of cremation and my printed invitation to get one for free. The Wall Street Journal story written by Jeffrey Zaslow appeared on February 3 and my invitation arrived the same day. The WSJ described the increasing popularity of cremation as a way of addressing the question of what to do with one's family and friends following their demise.
According to the WSJ, in 1980 about 4% of families were choosing cremation and today that number has increased to 39%. The Cremation Association of North America projects that within 15 years the number of folks seeking cremation (post mortem, of course) will increase to 60%. Using the Cremation Association's statistics we are informed that each of us when cremated weighs approximately 5 pounds (good news for those who spent their entire lives worrying about being overweight) and the combined total of all those being cremated in a year is approximately 338 tons. Mr. Zaslow spends much of his tale describing the places favored by those responsible for disposing of the ashes following the cremation and those looking for ideas are referred to his story in the WSJ. It was a truly remarkable coincidence that on the very day that Mr. Zaslow's story appeared in the newspaper, my invitation for a free cremation appeared in my mail box.
The return address on the envelope indicated that the sender was the Neptune Society located in Arvada, Colorado and next to its name was a seal with the words "Memorialized Cremation" and 4 towers resembling smoke stacks from two of which wisps of smoke seem to be emerging. (The seal is quite small and even assisted by a magnifying glass I cannot be sure they are in fact smokestacks.) On the face of the envelope, beneath my name, was printed "Free Pre-paid cremation! DETAILS INSIDE."
Although an offer of anything for free is tantalizing, I was slightly apprehensive since I was sure the contents would disclose, as do so many seemingly irresistible offers, that there was a time limit associated with the offer and that in order to take advantage of it I would have to agree to be cremated by a date certain selected by the Neptune Society, probably in a month in which cremations are typically low. It was, therefore, with some relief that upon opening the envelope I learned that although the contents breached the envelope's promise of a free cremation, there was no time limit for taking advantage of the offer. It would be valid even if I chose to live another 40 or 50 years. The breach of promise, as it were, was that I had not won a free cremation as promised by the envelope but had only been given a chance to participate in a drawing where, if successful, I would be entitled to be cremated for free no matter how long after the drawing I decided to postpone the happy event.
The enclosed letter explained that the Neptune Society has the distinction of being "America's Cremation Specialists" and informs that Neptune's motto is "Simple, Economical and Dignified." The letter sets forth a number of reasons why cremation (after death) makes sense including the fact that by paying for the cremation now you "lock in today's price" no matter when you decide to die. Somewhat mysteriously, the letter concludes with a footnote apologizing "if this letter has reached you at a time of serious illness or death in your family." That seems odd since that is exactly the time when such a letter would be most relevant and, depending on the time of the next drawing, welcomed by its recipient.
Enclosed with the letter was the ticket to participate in the drawing. It was in the form of a card, the completion and return of which entitles me to be entered in the free cremation lottery. On one side of the card is a tranquil picture of a misty forest with shades of green faintly visible through the mist. On the back of the card is a quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt that has no particular relevance to cremation. It says: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that's why they call it the present." The quotation would be more meaningful if it meant that each recipient of the card got the present of a free cremation instead of the opportunity to participate in a drawing.
I have not returned the card. I am waiting to see if those selling cryogenic preservation with the tantalizing prospect of possible future resurrection will be having a drawing in which I can participate. Then I can decide whether to go for the hot or the cold. I'll not enter both.
Christopher Brauchli can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com