Years ago, when I first graduated from college I was told that one of the first things I had to do was get a job, and the next was to buy life insurance. I wasn’t quite sure why, but my parents and employers insisted on it. I had to plan for retirement and sudden death. I found that pretty morbid at the time, but not as morbid as purchasing a vault at the columbarium (Urnenhalle in German, and columbario in Spanish) while my parents and I are still very much alive. All of us prefer cremation so in a way that made it easier for me to simply concentrate on the search for an available columbarium rather than a plot at the cemetery. If the choice of forest memorials or natural burials (Friedwald) were available here in the Philippines that would be my first choice, but I suspect that would never be approved by the Catholic Church here, not to mention that the natural resources for such burials and memorials here are limited.
Like it or not, death has to be planned for and we live in a society where everything needs some sort of insurance policy that we are not caught unawares. I don’t like it, but agree that some financial planning needs to take place. With death looming over my parents like an unwanted spectre, I had no choice but to start looking into the more morbid side of things such as funerals, burials and everything that comes with it. Having no siblings to share the burden of responsibility with, I went ahead and started looking around for a columbarium as early as December 2015. First of all the prices horrified me, and second, the places where I inquired (preferences of my parents) were all full and they could not tell me when vaults would be available. Talk about a serious reality check! Dying is apparently no different than going on a holiday. You need a reservation! Geez. You cannot “check out” just like that, because you need funeral arrangements, then burial arrangements, and in our case, cremation arrangements as well.
Things are always more interesting in the Philippines for certain matters – complicated, but interesting nevertheless. Last week a friend told me about a place with ongoing special offers at the columbarium. I stared at her as if she had just told me I had grown a second head. Who ever heard of special offers on columbarium vaults as if it were end-of-summer sale or something similar? Well, it was true and I got in touch with the agent right away, and strangely enough, my mother had raised the topic just two nights ago.
I’m not going to share prices or numbers here, but suffice it to say that the offer of a 50% discount on a family vault for four with perpetual ownership was attractive enough for me. I was toured around the facilities and liked what I saw. I felt as though I was in library archive rather than a place of death. It was bright, well planned, and under strict security so that that only those with the access keys can visit the vaults. For the first time in my life I thought to myself, yes, this would be a dignified place to be put to rest – OK, maybe my thought bubble was more like “I can accept being shelved up here”, though truth be told I have other plans for my own interment. As I chose the vault I had to consider the various scenarios, depending on which of my parents dies first, and if I end up there as well, how easy or difficult would it be to find me. Height, location, proximity to the chapel or place in the garden all play a crucial role in the decision. The most expensive vaults are those at eye level and the cheapest ones are either the top row or bottom row.
It is not a pleasant thought nor process to prepare, but rather prepare for it while still able than to leave the surviving family members caught unaware. Sadly, death is all around us, and the practical side of things has to be considered at all times.
If there is something I learned from my grandparents on this matter is that you cannot plan for the next generation and expect them to follow your wishes. While they were still alive they bought a cemetery plot for eight people, (themselves and their children). Only my grandparents are buried there now and few of us grandchildren remember where the tomb actually is. Everyone else has been laid to rest elsewhere as per their own wishes or those of their children. So unless you belong to a family with a large mausoleum where every member of the family will be interred, you can really only plan for your immediate family, or at the very least, provide them the option.
The visit to the columbarium was definitely an eye-opener for me, but also depressing, having to prepare for death.