God’s Joke: the Vanishing Cemetery Plot

Several years after my divorce was completed, I realized that my ex husband and I had not settled the issue of our cemetery cremation plots. Having forgotten this, I had even offered the other half of my cremation site to a Ugandan refugee friend who had no money and no burial plans.

As part of my inner journey at the time, I was practicing the art of letting go, gracefully, of things I did not need or want any more, or that I was clinging to. Lots of things had already left my life, I had reduced my expenses significantly and I was beginning to practice living more consciously. This process of letting go brought up a lot of old memories that I needed to either celebrate or heal. It also allowed me to live more simply without feeling diminished. So I knew that there was wisdom in letting go and in living smaller.

But when the cremation plot issue arose, I got frightened. A cremation plot seemed a necessity and the cost of buying half of it back was prohibitive. I checked the costs of a new site and they were four times what we had paid. I simply could not afford it. I needed wise discernment on this decision. It felt big to me, almost foundational. I needed to make a good decision so I prayed, wrote in my journal and listened carefully to God’s direction.

In a graced moment that could only be God speaking to me, I received an idea, a small plan, that I felt would free me from the fear and provide me a way to the future. I needed to let go of my fear of not having a place to rest after I died. I knew the plan was right the moment it came to me. I would be cremated but have my ashes scattered in a place that was meaningful for me. I could then release my cremation site to my ex husband if he wanted to buy it from me. God transformed my fear into generosity and I offered to sell him my half for a low price if he would include a stipend for my refugee friend. I presented him with the options. He agreed to buy me out and the case was closed.

Or so I thought. But God was not done yet.

Several months later I heard about someone who had given her body for medical research. I remembered a dear friend of mine who had done the same thing. He even worked with the undertaker to have an athletic supporter put on his body that said, “Go Hawks,” the name of the mascot of the university he chose for his bequest. I chuckled when I remembered this story.

I pondered this bequest and called the University of Minnesota to see what the process entailed. I even told the story of my friend’s bequest to the man who was in charge of this process at the university. He chuckled too. I asked if I could do something similar, like have a silk scarf with the university logo on it put around my neck. He said he thought that would be fine. So I sent for the forms and kept praying about this donation as an option, as a way to keep on giving after my death. I was already an organ donor so I thought, “Why not give my whole body?” As I pondered this choice, it felt better all the time and I was deeply satisfied with my decision.

The day the forms arrived from the university, I sat down to read through the details and the alternatives. One of the issues was what to do with my body when the university medical school was finished with it. I knew they would pay for the cremation but would I just have them give my ashes to my friends to scatter them in a meaningful place? As I read the four options proposed by the university, one read like this: The university will, upon request from the donor, put the ashes in a special plot for all donors with an appropriate marker of gratitude at Lakewood Cemetery.

I began to chuckle. I knew this was God’s doing, God’s way of joking with me. It had to be. Lakewood Cemetery was the very cemetery I had just relinquished to my ex husband as my final resting place. Now it could, once again, be my final resting place. Not only was it free but it held more meaning and humor for me than it had before. And I would be totally disentangled from the cremation site that had become so complicated. This new site felt like a whole, healed place for me. I completed the paper work and got a silk scarf with little insignias of Goldie, the golden gopher, mascot of the university, running all over the scarf. I sent it all in to the university and now I cannot help thinking about those medical students who open the bag and have a reason to chuckle.

God’s humor is so imaginative.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

When have you been surprised or frightened by some unfinished business that could affect you adversely?

How did you step back and bring some calm or perspective to the situation that helped you cope?

What new insights came to the situation?

What humor was involved in the solution?

How do you experience God’s sense of humor?