At one time in real estate repartee, if things were “moving down,” we’d be referring to our basements. After my husband passed away four years ago, the term “moving down” took on new meaning. It came to the fore as I searched hurriedly in a crisis for the right plot that would become my husband’s final resting place.
Married for 42 years, we had both been in denial about our mortality. We didn’t discuss our funerals or how and where we wanted to be buried, even after my husband became ill. And my parents were both alive and had just started dealing with this issue, opting to be buried above ground in a crypt. In our case, we lived life as if it would go on forever. That fantasy was derailed when my husband didn’t beat his cancer. Our lack of planning smacked me hard in the face. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Do I call the funeral home, should I run out and buy a plot? Where? How? I panicked. Nolan and I had always made every major decision together.
I knew that going underground wasn’t for everyone, but I was pretty sure my late husband would have turned in his gave if I had chosen to bury him above ground in a mausoleum or have him cremated with his ashes placed on my nightstand like one woman who I met in my spousal grief support group did. So, at the lowest point in my life, I shopped for cemetery plots. It wasn’t the kind of real estate I envisioned I’d purchase in my mid-60s when we had talked about retiring and going smaller, sparer and greener. Of course, this had a certain element of green, depending on the location.
But all was so different than when we had bought our home 40 years ago. Then we worried about space for storage, windows, walk-in closets, enough bedrooms and bathrooms for our three kids, a decent kitchen, good plumbing and where to put the washer and dryer. This real estate would have none of these amenities. It probably wouldn’t have much of a lawn, something my husband loved to mow, or real flowers that he enjoyed planting. Cemeteries in my area were crowded; real estate for the departed was at a premium.
Although I am a journalist used to researching everything from wine to businesses to design, I didn’t have the time or energy to check out options. I had to do this hastily and picked a plot in the zip code I knew he preferred. His plot also had to be on an aisle, the location he wanted for movies and airplane flights, and a good view was mandatory. As upset and sad as I was at the time, I imagined a half grin on his face as I ticked off these requirements to the cemetery caretaker. He, in turn, suggested that I not just buy one plot but mine as well cautioning me that another would go up in price and might not be available if I waited. “I can always buy it back if you don’t want it,” he said. What a deal.
I also had to select the location or our row and opted to be in the neighborhood near my best friend Leslie’s father and brother, knowing that Leslie and the rest of her clan would be buried with them some day. In this way, the person who I spent the most time with growing up would be with my husband and me in perpetuity. Leslie and I wouldn’t be taking trips to Europe together, driving around in her convertible and schmoozing or shoe shopping, but we’d be nearly side by side exactly the way we’re photographed in so many of our school photos.
As the sun rose like a hot air balloon on that clear and mild April morning, I stood on the sidewalk negotiating my purchase, then writing a big fat check. I was in shock not only because I had just lost the love of my life but because how could I really be sure these subterranean spaces were escalating in price as suggested. I was in no place emotionally to haggle. I just wanted the deed done. As I turned to leave, I thought, “I hope I did well by you, Nolan? I’ll be joining you one day and like all the years I slept beside you, I’ll be back.” I selfishly wished that it wouldn’t be for a long time since I still, even in my despair and then mid-60s, wanted to live.