Death for Beginners
by Karen Jones
Death. It’s a topic not many like to think about, much less discuss. But the truth of the matter is: We are all going to die. My dad believes he will live forever. He won’t talk about death, plan for it or even admit that he, too, will meet our maker one day and leave his family behind to remember him. Problem is, because he won’t discuss it, the act of remembering him in the manner he wants will get a little rough—especially because our hearts will be flooded with sadness, our minds filled with the fog of grief.
My husband won’t discuss it either. It leaves me with a serious dilemma. Enter Karen Jones.
Author of “Death for Beginners: Your No-Nonsense, Money-Saving Guide to Planning for the Inevitable,” this valuable and funny handbook offers information on the difficult subject of planning for one’s own death and organizing funerals for loved ones. Dedicated to showing how to celebrate life, inside Jones aims to change not only the way we view death, but also the manner in which we prepare for it.
To be honest during our conversation, which was anything but lugubrious, Jones did more than accomplish this goal. By offering humorous facts and blunt truths, she makes the challenge of acceptance a lot easier to talk about and in turn easier to live with.
“Death always has been taboo,” she says. “It’s a loss of control. Ten years ago my best friend’s sister was killed in a pedestrian accident. It was awful. The family had no idea what to do. They were reeling from the shock. All I could do was offer advice—you know, suggest waterproof mascara. I saw people try to take advantage of the family and I thought, No! This should never happen ever again! [In the end,] no one knows what to do.”
A former reporter, Jones knew about previous investigations that had been done on the scandals of the funeral industry. Yet, she couldn’t shake the incessant questions about how to make the process better.
“I’m not trying to sound corny,” she says, “but momma was a Girl Scout leader, and she said, ‘Leave the camp site better than you found it.’ What could I do to make it better? I wrote a book that offers how to plan for it!”
From wills, traditional forms of services and types of cremations, to hidden secrets cemeteries, casket rental, embalmment and eulogies, “Death for Beginners: Your No-Nonsense, Money-Saving Guide to Planning for the Inevitable” is built like a workbook. Jones presents readers with every single option imaginable in funeral planning. More so, she manages to make it a bit fun.
“My momma, who I swear is a Southern Belle who will never die, wants to be turned into a diamond ring,” Jones shares jokingly. “When she told me that, I thought, I’m never getting rid of you, am I, Momma? I’m going to have to wear you on my hand!”
Offering definitions, pros, cons, costs and related websites appropriate for research, “Death for Beginners” is a funny, light-hearted quick read. It’s written so people can avoid getting taken advantage of during a time of grief. It’s also written to help prevent wiping out the bank account for a burial. Within all its humor and useful gems of information, it still manages to remind readers of one important fact: Expecting the death of a loved one matters not. At the end of the day, a funeral is nothing more than a purchase of goods and services. “These are expensive goods, too,” Jones believes. “One will have to purchase [them] with an unclear mind, and that’s dangerous!”
A self-proclaimed hippie who loves The Beatles, Jones has opted to have her final celebration on the beach as “Here Comes the Sun” plays while her family and friends sip on really good champagne. “I’m not busting the funeral industry and I don’t have an agenda,” she says, “but you have to remember: In every business there are unsavory characters, so why not go ahead and write this stuff down? Why not make your choices now? Why not give specific orders to leave out that fun and unfortunate evening in Tijuana during the eulogy? It won’t take long, and in all seriousness it’s the nicest thing you can do for those left behind. It’s really about celebrating who their loved one is. We should tell our loved ones, ‘I need you to give you me a gift. The most important gift you’ve ever given me. Peace of mind and a chance to celebrate who you are.’”