I knew there were not enough dead people in Provincetown to make their disposal profitable. I discovered recently that the same is true for Wellfleet. (Forget Truro — it’s a wasteland.)
I learned this by ringing the doorbell at the Nickerson Funeral Home in downtown Wellfleet and finding nobody home. When I phoned the number next to the bell, a very nice person informed me that Wellfleet was a “satellite facility” and the main operation was out of Orleans. So, those of us on the Outer Cape must ultimately journey to Orleans to get disposed of properly.
Of course, I am usually driving past Orleans to Hyannis for the medical appointments designed to keep me above ground, so I shouldn’t complain: my last trip will be my shortest. But it is odd, don’t you think, that our Outer Cape demographic, teetering near the oldest in the state, can’t support a local enterprise for the handling of the dead?
We can’t change everything. Unless an innovative cottage industry emerges to deal with human disposal, there is only one game in town, as it were. I made an appointment and eventually met with the director of “advance planning” (there is a euphemism if I’ve ever heard one). He was extremely friendly and at the same time professional, and he walked me through my options for the disposition of what is left after I am no longer bustling about in this world.
You might think this an odd preoccupation, but those of a certain age may possibly relate to what is an unavoidable task — one that is best taken care of personally and not left to survivors. It is a kindness, really.
As he talked, I was distracted: by a set of unvisited bird feeders outside the window, swaying in a light breeze; by the pastel shadows of bare tree branches on a bleached and bleak winter lawn; by the dim light of the wretched month of February. I thought of a world without me. The walls of this attractive place were of a subdued hue, calming, and the quiet hum of a heating system somewhere under the floor was also soothing. A portrait of a soldier in a decorated uniform smiled down on me. He used to be somebody.
My counselor ticked off the options. I was asking about green burial, with minimal steps at preservation (see “Grave Thoughts,” June 17, 2021). I opted for a biodegradable receptacle — cardboard actually — but because of Provincetown’s sandy soil there would need to be a concrete grave liner to avoid a cave-in. We wouldn’t want that, would we? Clothing? A simple shroud would do. I wondered where one shops for shrouds these days. The excavation would be a bit pricey — at least $400. I wondered if I could work on it myself over time and save that expense. Probably not. But imagine what a therapeutic activity that would be — to prepare your own place of repose, after work and on weekends.
We talked — mostly he talked, and I listened — about other details: organ donation was one. Who would want a liver poached in single-malt Scotch for over 60 years? No harm in asking. Then there is bathing (bathing?) and (understandably) refrigeration costs. A death certificate was another detail. You have to have one. You get five copies of this document, at $10 apiece, although, strangely, you never get to read it.
There were more details to discuss, and with each he punched in numbers. At the end, the bottom line was shockingly high. I’m not sure I can afford to die.
One line item I scrimped on was the ceremony and services. When I get around to it, I will come up with something of my own — nothing smacking of religion — and leave instructions. Perhaps rent out the Old Colony Tap, or the alleyway beside it.
It occurred to me that this interview had only to do with my body, not my spirit, or my soul, or that packet of energy that for these brief decades has been associated with Dennis Minsky.
Puff … and it’s gone. No disposal necessary.