You know, the older I get, the more I’m amazed at the complexities of life. Also the absurdities. When you’re young, all of life is before you: love, adventure, setting goals and striving to attain the unattainable. You sit on a mountain top and look down at the green and lush valleys below and your heart swells and inner passions soar and take flight. You feel invincible because that is the beauty of youth and all it has to offer.

By middle age, your point of view is tempered and for some, expectations are narrowed and more focused. Marriage, family and career responsibilities have a way of doing that, but that doesn’t mean your spirit should be compromised and never again soar.

Then you hit the 60 mark and you have a tendency to look back, reflect, evaluate, cry or shout with joy over accomplishments or the lack of them. I’ve been lucky. I’ve much joy but sometimes in those odd moments in the middle of the night when you toss and turn and sound sleep is fleeting, there are those moments when one wonders the what ifs … Those are the moments that can be both haunting and daunting.

The other day I received a card in the mail: It was from the Neptune Cremation Society asking me to join them for a seminar and luncheon at a local steakhouse to explore the benefits of pre-planning my demise. They urged me to become more informed on making the best choice possible for myself and my family without any obligation.

Right. And there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I’m figuring they didn’t take into consideration the gullibility factor.

Just to let you know, I consider myself a Roaming Catholic and an FDR Democrat (God help me). Both my wife and I have decided that cremation is the way for us to go (no pun intended here). How the Neptune Society figured this out is beyond me unless the National Security Agency really is listening in on our every conversation and sharing the data (for a price, Ugarte, for a price) with the highest bidder.

Here’s the absurdity: With the brand name “Neptune Society” one would think they’d be promoting burials at sea. Now I’m Sicilian and the last thing I want is to be swimming with the fishes. To a degree, I’m a realist and common sense has to apply. While a number of my friends are avid skydivers, I, as a pilot would personally never jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

Raised as a Catholic (Franciscan Friars ruled over my childhood church in Hackensack) it was drummed into me that cremation was not an option. Remains were to be interred in consecrated ground and that was that. But if I remember my Scriptures correctly, there’s something about “ashes to ashes, dust to dustĀ …”

I figure that I’m not going to burn in hell if I live up to the “ashes to ashes” part.

Okay now: Another absurdity: Why a cremation seminar at a steakhouse? Besides a free drink or two to help lower my guard against a hard sell, will the menu offer only one option when it comes to a good sirloin steak or filet mignon: Well done and charred? Maybe I’m just way over thinking this whole situation.

I’ve come to understand that funeral rites vary from region to region across the country. As a boy, I remember wakes and funerals in the Italian tradition would go on for days and days. I would dread those affairs.

Today, it’s common place for a single-day wake and then bang, right in the ground. Cremation can be simple and rightly so. A viewing, a chance for family and friends to mourn and reflect, and then off to the crematorium. Better still: a cremation followed in time with a memorial/celebration service for the deceased where loved ones can recount stories and all the more embrace a legacy of life. A dear friend has already let it be known that when his time comes, cremation is in order followed by an Irish wake at his favorite pub. I can see that. I’ll even drink to that.

Then there’s the trend in some parts of the country that defy sanctity and sanity: Drive-thru wakes. At a predetermined day and time, just jump in the car with your family and pay your respects to good old Uncle Bob, looking his very best in an ornate casket and displayed right there in a window with Amazing Grace playing as background. A last look and a final prayer. Just don’t expect anyone asking you if you want fries with that.

When the trend first took root, I recall the president of some mid-western funeral association saying that consumers today want a different experience from traditional wakes. That in a society on the move, one must allow for the experience to fit into schedules, thereby eliminating any guilt for those who can’t make time for lengthy viewings. “It’s not that the beloved departed are being disrespected,” he explained, “it’s just that, as in a cabaret, the dear soul can be celebrated in new, exciting and convenient ways.”

My running joke with my wife over the years has been that if cremation is not possible, just drop me into an old orange crate, fold me over and bury me in the back yard. I certainly won’t know the difference.

The only thing I do know is this: Whatever comes after we shed this mortal coil, my spirit will continue to soar in the memories of those left behind who I’ve loved and cherished and have loved and cherished me.


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