Dying as a business

Now that some time has passed, I am trying to think about all the events that have happened in the last two and a half months a little more rationally. One of the things that I have thought about extensively and reflect back on quite often is the day after I found out my brother passed. Chris and I flew back to San Francisco, and just hours later, my parents, aunt, and I are sitting around a round table with two Neptune Columbarium directors as we are negotiating what we want for Ed and how much it will cost. Death, sadly, is just another business deal. We may be mourning the death of a son or brother or nephew, but money is needed to pay for all this crap. They want to charge us as much as they want, and us still being practical despite being puffy eyed and tear-stained, we want to make sure we are not ripped off.

My brother was cremated, and my parents picked a nice urn and paid a substantial amount for the niche in which he would be interred at the Hall of Olympians at the Columbarium. Mind you, cremation is no longer the cheap option to choose when handling funeral arrangements; in fact, it’s catching up quite quickly with burials. While I won’t reveal any actual numbers, I will say that we were charged per character for the engraving on the urn for my brother’s full name, date of birth, and date of death (my dad and I tried to be humorous about this and joked that maybe in retrospect, we should have written Ed Wong instead of Edward Yuey Wong. However, my mom did not appreciate this comment), the actual opening of the niche to place the urn inside cost a three-digit figure (apparently you can buy a niche, and the fee doesn’t include actually putting the urns inside!), and the flowers we could have conveniently gotten through the Columbarium for the service cost over three times what we ended up paying at a neighborhood florist.

Dying is a business in the same way that giving birth and getting married are. It’s not a happy or exciting event to plan in the way that the latter are, but sadly, it’s a necessary part of life – and a part of life that is overpriced just like those happy events. It feels even worse to charge these astronomical fees for dying, though, because you are essentially taking advantage of people at their weakest and most vulnerable periods in life.

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