WALLY'S WORLD: Concept of death gets more real as we get older

Well, you know what they say about the certainties in life: there are only two, death and taxes.

The taxes owed at the time of your death can, in and of themselves, be enough to produce a coronary. This is above and beyond the cost of dying, which can also be damned expensive.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the American “way of death” has produced a $12 billion a year industry. Some of the most expensive funerals in U.S. history – in excess of $50,000 after adjustment for inflation – were exchanged, back and forth, between rival Prohibition gangsters in the 1920s. However, today, on a national basis, the typical American funeral only costs around $7,300, not including cemetery and monument fees.

With this in mind, I telephoned Duane Weeks, owner of the Weeks’ Enumclaw Funeral Home, and asked how much the average local funeral cost. He said around $6,000. I wondered who had the largest funeral; that is, the most people in attendance. He recalled one eulogy several years ago where roughly 3,000 people turned out for a King County sheriff.

Personally, I’ve been to very few funerals, which means very few people will be at mine. After all, if you don’t go to other people’s funerals, you can’t expect them to come to yours.

The concept of death becomes more real as you age. It also becomes very real, at least for a short time, when you have a near-death experience; for example, a serious car wreck or falling off a ladder. In fact, at certain times during your life, death becomes so real it nearly – so to speak – scares you half to death. (Which raises an interesting question: what happens when you’re scared half to death twice?)

Unless they’ve lost a close family member, youngsters don’t pay much attention to death, even though it’s all around them. When you’re a teenager, you feel like you’ll live forever, an illusion stemming from the relative nature of time. But even if you eat right, exercise each day, meditate and generally stay fit, you end up at the same place a gluttonous, lazy, drunken fool does: you die.

Some people fear death and the “great existential void.” Other folks look forward to another life in another dimension. Yet, even if you believe in an afterlife, generally speaking, no one wants to die. As Woody Allen has pointed out, no matter how horrible, painful, and/or expensive life becomes, the overwhelming majority of us don’t want to give it up.

Some of you may find this column and its subject rather depressing. That’s unfortunate. The last thing I want to do is depress you.

But always remember this: The last thing you want to do will, in fact, be the last thing you do.


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