Monday, August 16, 2010

Money Grubbers: Bring out your dead

I’m composing this post on the the ninth anniversary of my mother’s death. While her daughter composes, Liz reposes in a small cemetery just outside of Worcester, Massachusetts. In current parlance, I guess we could call St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Leicester a “boutique” graveyard. Originally established as the parish cemetery for a congregation of recent Irish immigrants, the cemetery has, over the years, pretty much catered to a niche: current members of the parish, and those with family members buried in the cem.

In my case, there are boat loads, or, rather, hearse loads, of family at St. Joseph’s, starting with Matthew and Bridget Trainor, my great-grandparents, and a number of their offspring, grandchildren, and, increasingly, great-grandchildren. There are also plenty of collateral relatives: relatives of Matthew and Bridget, and their descendants.

My mother would probably have been happier if she had some more blood relations around for the aftermath, but her parents, and her brothers Bob and Jack, are buried in Chicago. So whatever remains of my mother must stay content with the fact that she is among three of those she loved best in life: my father, my Aunt Margaret, and my sister Margaret Mary, who died in infancy.

There may come a time when St. Joseph’s runs out of room, but it appears to have a few more years left in it. It’s small but, as I mentioned, niche. Most Catholics in Worcester opt for the far larger and somewhat grander St. John’s Cemetery, where, I believe there’s still a bit of space, or the huge and antiseptic suburban cemetery in Paxton that only allows flat grave-markers.

So there’s enough of room left in Worcester that Worcester-ites don’t need to fear that there’ll be no place to go when they’re gone.

But things are grave in New York City.

The last working cemetery in Manhattan – that of Trinity Church – is now burying only those with “long-held reservations” (how NY is that?), and selling new plots only in “extraordinary circumstances”. (One of these was that of ex-Mayor Ed Koch who wanted to stay in Manhattan permanently. He was able to buy in to Trinity – which is Episcopal – for $20K, and had his piece consecrated as Jewish burial ground.

Koch was a lucky duck. The largest local Jewish cemetery, which is in Brooklyn,

…ran out of land in the winter after tearing up roads and pathways to utilize every cubic inch of ground.

Hearses now have to unload at the gates, and ferry the caskets forth, and the mourners back and forth, on golf carts. The big Catholic cemetery, located in Queens (you’ve been by if you’ve flown in or out of LaGuardia) is running out of room, as well. Many other NYC cemeteries have only a few more years worth of space. Woodlawn, on the outskirts of the Bronx, has room for another 40 or 50 years, so there’s no need to panic. And you can always move to Staten Island. But the prices close to The City are going up, as supply and demand forces come into play.  Spaced out of Manhattan, priced out of New York City as a whole, many New Yorkers are finding themselves buried in the suburbs or upstate. (Ain’ t that a kick in the teeth?)

Still, it hasn’t gotten as bad as it is in London, where they’re starting to bury people upright. Obviously, most folks would rather spend eternity lying down, rather than standing up. Maybe those upright coffins come with little collapsible seats, so you could at least take the load off, even if that load is ever-diminishing. I hope the caskets come with This End Up arrows. Who wants to spend the rest of their life death standing on their head?

Other cemeteries offer “limited tenure”, after which you find yourself kicked out of the only place you’ve known as posthumous home, or with new neighbors crowding you out.

I got all this info on the state of NYC cemeteries in The NY Times.

The article included this bit:

“We have people who would like to disinter Mom and Dad and sell the graves back to make some money,” said Richard Fishman, the director of the New York State Division of Cemeteries.

There are state laws limiting the profits on resold graves, but the fact that people would be willing to go to such lengths, Mr. Fishman said, illustrates just how valuable burial plots have become.

It also illustrates just how money grubbing people can be.

Now, in real life, once they’ve gone underground, Mom and Dad are well past caring what you do with their remains. But, truly, if it were at all possible, they really would be rolling over in their graves if they knew that Sissy and Sonny were thinking about disturbing their piece/peace to pay for a trip to Cabo or a Sub-Zero fridge.

There may come a time when the value of those plots at St. Joseph Cemetery in Leicester becomes so great that someone makes us a big, fat offer for them.  Given that this cemetery is built on a squooshy, spring fed hill, I seriously doubt it. But you never know. I just hope that I never get so money grubbing that I’ll bring out my dead so that someone with a checkbook has room for theirs. Haven’t they heard of cremation?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very moving, poignant, and sometimes funny (the word play)topic that resonated with me for reasons you know.

I didn't realize that 9/11 must have been even more devastating for you, happening just weeks after your mother's death.

But shes in a wonderful place, well-tended by you and your family with newly planted flowers on her grave, I'm sure.