My wife informed me yesterday that someone on Facebook is seeking donations for an online memorial to honor a deceased relative.
I do not even pretend to understand how this song goes. I plead ignorance as to what constitutes an online memorial and why it is necessary to collect money for it. I am guessing that there is some connection between the online memorial and the dear departed’s family offline. Perhaps funds are required to pay for the funeral of the deceased or to help the family cope with final medical bills or a loss of the family breadwinner’s income.
This reminds me of a phenomenon that I have often witnessed in both northern and southern California (but not in my native New York): Children and adults waving signs at intersections and street corners advertising homespun car washes being held to raise funds to pay for the funeral of a deceased family member. Typically, the entire family, from kids to grandparents, is out there in a store’s parking lot with buckets, rags and squeegee bottles filled with liquid soap. Whether the sponge-and-rag crew does a good job or not is almost beside the point. What really matters is the one holding the sign and the kid jumping up and down and waving his arms to attract the attention of captive audiences stopped at the red light. A common prop is an enlarged photo of the deceased mounted on a sheet of cardboard.
I can’t help but think that the dead guy (or woman) must be turning over in his or her grave with embarrassment. Oh, wait, I almost forgot — they’re not even in their graves yet. That’s what the car wash is supposed to pay for.
I wonder where they keep the corpse in the meantime. Is she still stuck at the morgue waiting to be claimed by the family? Or maybe stashed in someone’s garage? Every time I pass one of those U-Store-It places, I wonder whether they’ve ever found a body swathed in a shroud in the back corner of Unit 72. I can see the employees chatting in the front office now. “I say, Bertie, what do you suppose is that rank odor wafting out of Unit 72? You don’t fancy there’s cheese fermenting in there, now do you, bloke?”
Calling the story writers of Storage Wars: I think you’ve got your next plot development nailed down. I can see it now. During the auction, Dave Hester can yell “Nooooooope!” while Barry Weiss falls off his golf cart when he passes out from the fumes and Jarrod and Brandi bicker about how much to bid and whether a coffin would be likely to sell in their store. Fade to the car wash on the corner with the sign twirler displaying a photo of the dead guy.
But seriously, I can’t think of anything more tacky than raising money for a funeral. Well, maybe the decorations in fancy script affixed to the rear windows of automobiles: In Loving Memory of David, March 18, 1952 – July 21, 1993. Rest in peace, Daddy!” Someone ought to start marketing these. Just think, now you can always have your loved one’s headstone with you where’er you may roam!
It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for cash-strapped families who are faced with the sudden death of a loved one. But the whole car wash thing is nothing but a form of begging. I don’t see families with the chamois as any different than the panhandler with the styrofoam cup.
So what’s the answer? What’s an impoverished family to do when a family member suddenly casts off this mortal coil? In days gone by, I believe that churches stepped in to provide the deceased with a decent burial. But today, so many are not affiliated with any house of worship, and local churches tend to be so cash-strapped as to be without the means to offer such generous gestures.
Of course, this was less of an issue in the past, when funerals didn’t cost $10,000 or more. By the time you add up the costs of the casket, the embalming, the beautician, the burial plot, the headstone and the clergy, you’re talking about a lot more money than most of us have in a savings account or a coffee can.
I once asked my father what the morgue does with corpses that no one claims. He told me that in New York City, where he grew up, the deceased would be interred in a pauper’s grave on Hart Island in Long Island Sound. Many thousands are buried there in mass graves dug with prison labor. Not exactly what a loving family aspires to, but it caters to the needs of the destitute and those without families.
I have no idea what northern California’s equivalent of Hart Island might be, but I will tell you this: When I’m dead, whatever you do, do not go begging total strangers for money for my funeral.
As for my father, he tells me that when he passes on we should tie him up in a burlap sack and throw him in the ocean.
Um, need your car washed, mister?