以上是馮爾正先生的翻譯, I originally wrote this article for ProMinistry in English:
The Cost of Dying
For many people, the idea of death triggers strong emotions – the fear of the unknown, the prospect of judgment, the cost of having led a certain type of lifestyle. However, once we become Christians, death no longer holds power over us. Feelings of dread transform into peaceful anticipation and the cost of dying becomes purely financial.
Two years ago my parents decided that they wanted to purchase their future burial plots. Even though many seniors are reluctant to even write up a will, we were not surprised by my parents’ decision. Besides wanting to get their affairs organized, they realized that land prices wouldn’t go down. But above all, being devout Christians, my parents have no qualm about facing death because they know where they are going and whom they are going to meet at the other end.
My brothers and I began helping them on this little project, and in the process we learned a great deal about the financial aspects of dying. First of all, we found that plot prices vary significantly from cemetery to cemetery, so we had to visit quite a few to do comparisons. Because of the growing Asian population in the Bay Area, many cemeteries have allocated specific areas for the Chinese. “We feel more comfortable being among our own people," my mother declared. Ideally they also want to be close to the sites of our other relatives.
Just like houses, burial plots come in different grades and prices, depending on the altitude, the direction, and the distance from the road. Plots closer to trees are cooler (for the people visiting, that is), but the underground may be affected by the growth of the roots. There is something I had not known: it is possible to “double-up" on the same plot, sort of like a bunk bed where one coffin is put on top of another. While this arrangement would of course be more economical, my parents would have none of it. “The one on the bottom would not be comfortable," my mother objected. I shared with her my words of wisdom: “You won’t be on the bottom if you outlive dad."
Once we selected a site, the bargaining began. The saleslady gave us a list of prices, including items like “real property," “endowment care" (funds that are used to take care of the ground), “opening and closing" (costs to dig up the dirt and to put it back), “vault" (a cement casing for the coffin), “monument" (you can order it separately, and it is probably cheaper this way), and a “weekend fee" in case the burial happens on a weekend (my father said “just holding off and doing it on a weekday is fine"). We then haggled about the size of the discounts. We let the saleslady know that we were also considering other cemeteries, so she needed to come up with special discounts if she was to close the deal.
The transaction did not end with an agreement on the price of the plots. Sales people are trained to do “cross selling," which means selling you other related products and services. She cheerfully handed us a Casket Price List which was three pages long. I never knew that there could be 44 different grades of caskets, with prices ranging from just $1,295 to $29,000. This is the description of the most economical model: “Non-Protective, Cloth Covered Flat-Top Fiberboard, Grey Exterior." I breathed a sigh of relief, as I was fully expected to read something like “Unpainted Particle Board, Water-Proof Plastic Wrapper Included, Assembly Needed." As for the top-of-the-line model, it reads “Solid Mahogany, Hand Polished dark Exterior, Vel Allure Velvet Interior." I guess with impressive features like these it is indeed worth the money (except that these features are only seen for a very short time!).
From the casket, the sales presentation turned to the “funeral packages." We were presented with three different packages, each with a different cost structure and discounts. The packages included many different items, some of which I have never even dreamed of: service of funeral director and staff, embalming, dressing, casketing, cosmetizing, funeral coach (hearse), pallbearer gloves/bow ties/boutonnieres (no idea what the last item is), motorcycle escorts, crucifix for casket interior and exterior, etc. These people really thought of everything (and have put a cost to everything).
When all the bargaining was done and the deal completed, each of us received as a gift a copy of a “Personal Protection Guide." It is a record book of everything you want your family to know, including detailed instructions on how the funeral service is to be conducted (music selections, clothing, floral description, jewelry, glasses or no glasses, etc.), and your obituary (make sure they get all the facts right and say all the right things!).
It was an eye-opening experience. My subsequent research revealed that dying is a big (and probably very lucrative) business with several large corporations controlling a very large share of the market. For us, it was a time for the family to get together and enjoy a few days out in the sun. It may sound funny or even corny, but we actually had a pretty good time doing it. My parents’ attitude toward death is very refreshing. We get to talk about future plans and issues that we ordinarily would not discuss. Above all, we all know deep in our hearts that because of our faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who has already overcome death, we have the assurance of eternal life. We can, therefore, join Apostle Paul in declaring: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55)