When my dad told me he had cancer last winter, I wasn’t nearly as afraid as I probably should have been.

My lack of fright wasn’t just good ole fashion denial. There’s a total of five cancer survivors in my family, two of whom have blazed their way clear into their 90s. Fortunately for us, cancer has not been the death sentence that it has been for so many others  It’s more like an old enemy we’ve been feuding with for generations. One that has given us hell for many battles, but has yet to win the war.

And that’s what this prostate cancer would be to my 64-year-old father. He’s a former soldier after all, a veteran of Vietnam. If I trusted anyone to beat cancer, it was him. And that’s exactly what he did.  He went through three months of radiation and is currently cancer free.

I was stoked that my family had once again kicked cancer’s ass, but my father was a bit more humbled by his experience. The cancer had scared him, I could tell. And I don’t think there’s anything more unsettling to a little girl than to see her own father be afraid.

It was great that he had beaten cancer, for now at least, but if that didn’t take him, something else eventually would. He’d been made aware of the certainty of his own death. So he started to prepare.

Initially, I thought this would be limited to the things that he was leaving behind for me. I’d be his sole inheritor and he wanted to make sure that whatever was going to me went directly to me without interference. That meant putting me on the deed to his properties so that lawyers or an inheritance tax would not get any chunk of what he and his father had worked so hard for. Wonderful. I don’t know much about deeds or lawyers so the less that I have to deal with them, the better.

But then came the trip to the cemetery.

Every year in August for the past 19 years, my dad and I have visited his parent’s grave. He brings two lawn chairs, a pair of pruning shears to tidy up the grass around the marker, and a few bottles of water — if I’m lucky.  He sits for about 40 minutes or so, talking about his latest bout with gout, the Phillies, or whatever else is on his mind that day. I sit there, smile, and listen. Not necessarily because I’m having a great time, but because I know this is important to him.

Next to his parents’ grave is an empty double plot my grandfather bought nearly 60 years ago. He was the “always be prepared” man that my father is slowly turning into. I fight tears every time we visit the spot because I know there will eventually be a time when all four of us are there again, but I will be the only one above ground.

But on this year’s annual trip, something changed. Not only did we see grandma and grandpa, but we had a visit with a representative from the cemetery as well. Daddy wanted to make sure that everything was in order in the event that he “drop dead that night” or some time soon after.

And so it was. The rep assured us that the plot my grandfather bought for the low, low price of $220 in 1956 could be readied for his arrival. All they would need is his name.

But even though the plot was taken care of there were fees associated with burial that would still need to be paid. There was an opening and closing fee, a plot vault, a marker with a granite base, and a price to install everything. All that came to a whopping total of $3,500.

Not to worry, though. The cemetery allows people the convenience of paying for these items before they die and even offer payment plans with super low interest rates. Daddy loved the idea, but I couldn’t bear it. I didn’t like the thought of him sitting at home, making checks out to the cemetery. Listening to my father pick out his own plot vault was morbid and creepy, and just plain sad.

But then I remember my friends who have been forced to make important decisions about their love ones’ deaths while they were still delirious from fresh grief. There were a few that had to sell dinners and raffle tickets just to raise money to put their own parents in the ground. Daddy also knows some people, younger than myself, who have had to carry this same awful burden. I know he’s not paying off his own burial because he wants to; he’s doing it so I won’t have to.

Next came the part when my dad managed a straight face to ask if a homemade pine box could be used in the place of a casket.  The rep laughed the loudest laugh ever laughed inside the bounds of a cemetery. I smiled and shook my head. I knew my father was serious. We’d had this conversation on the car ride up.

“When we leave here I’m going to teach you how to build a pine box,” he said.

Before I can roll my eyes and offer a rebuttal he replies, “What’s the difference?  I’ll be dead!” (“I’ll be dead” being his rationale for wanting to half ass nearly every aspect of his funeral in an effort to cut cost.)

“I’m not building a pine box, Daddy.”

“Fine. I’ll build it and before I go I’ll tell you where I hid it.”

Thinking about that exchange, I start to laugh in the office, despitehow terrifying it is.

I’m kind of glad we can have responsible conversations about death and dying. Because it’s not like we’re just erring on the side of caution. Death is the only certainty he or any of us will ever face. I’m even happier that we can make preparations together, while he’s still around to make me laugh at all his absurd suggestions.



This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Shayla on XOJane! 

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  • Live for today, prepare for tomorrow…

  • Downsouth Transplant

    ask her if you get the chance or get your sister to give you the details sometimes it is good to just know however if they do not feel comfortable to let you know hey do it your way and be done with it, she had her chance to let you know she chose not to so do your best and let it be, if your sister differs with it she can cover the difference $$ and be done with it:) sorry to sound a little harsh i tend to feel really bad when a mother daughter r/ship is fractured and the mother does not rise above the situation to make it right, sending blessings your way!

    • Patience

      I think you are responding to my comment.

      As I said above, my mother and I aren’t close and talking to her about such a thing would never go over very well and I doubt my sister knows any more than I do.

  • LeonieUK

    I use to work in the funeral care business. The worst cases are ones where the loved ones and direct family members, have no idea what is taking place, and what the cost of funeral care entails. I really ask and applaud ALL that follow this site to have the talk with their living parents,grandparents, spouses and good friends.

    Main issues to discuss

    1) Burial or cremation.
    My family does not agree with cremation, but I have requested one, and made sure everyone I love and knows me, OVERSTANDS this will take place regardless.

    2) The costs of the funeral and if needed the aftercare.
    I’m from West Indian stock, and many have funerals back home. When I showed my parents the reality of island burials and the aftercare costs, real talk began.

    3) Who will be the executor of the will.
    This is hard, many, mainly the eldest child or the spouce will ‘assume’ this is their right. But the departed/deceased may have had other ideas and put this in place before anyone is aware.

    I’m sure their are other professionals in the funeral field who can comment on this further.I’ve just given my own personal views from being in the trade and the issues I had to face with my own family and friends. I hope anyone that really is facing theses dilemmas at present seek counsel, and get ready to have the inevitable. Better to be prepared today for what may entail tomorrow.

  • Downsouth Transplant

    @Patience yes ma’am your comment was what i tried to piggy back on, send your sister to do the work since they are closer, sending more blessings your way:)

  • Jamila

    My mother n law has 6 kids, I married her oldest. She only discuss her final arraignments with me her daughter n law. I knew where all her paper work was, she even told me make sure she “looked nice, in her casket” i can laugh now remembering those conversations with her. But she knew I would honor her wishes. She made sure she had insurance bc she didn’t want to family to worry about the cost. When day came i was able to honor her every wish, bc I knew what she wanted. I still had to fight w some n laws who thought I should of done things different. Now if I can only get my own parents to openly discuss final arraignments with my siblings and I.