Last Rights

January 04, 1994|By JANET HELLER

Most of the Christmas cards I received this season contained thoughtful messages and tidbits of news about comings and goings.

There are career changes, retirements, marriages, divorces, remarriages, new grandchildren and the loss of parents.

And thanks to a friend who works in the White House, Hillary and Bill wished me a ''joyful holiday season and a new year blessed with health, happiness and peace.''

On December 17, I opened a letter with the seal of Maryland on the upper left hand corner. It read as follows:

''We are awarding you one (1) free burial right, valued at $550. This is being offered to the head of each household who had not made pre-burial arrangements as of yet. All we ask in return is that you allow us to share the benefits of our program. . . . This is a true opportunity to solve what could potentially be a serious financial and emotional burden for your loved ones. . . .''

The company, alas, was barking up the wrong tree. My death will never be a burden to my darling offspring, as I decided years ago to leave my hopefully ancient body to a group of eager medical students. At the moment, however, I have no plans to take leave of this planet and certainly have no intention of doing so soon; there is simply too much to do.

I thought of giving the free burial-right certificate to a friend who runs a hospice for the terminally ill, but she turned me down cold. ''The offer is a gimmick,'' she warned. ''All the company wants is a foot in the door and they'll not only take you to the morgue but to the cleaners first.''

The ''Advanced Planning Department'' of the burial company also sent me a card on which I could request information about: Above Ground Burial, Burial Spaces, Veterans Garden and Cremation.

It also acknowledged the possibility that I already might have ''prearranged'' plans and suggested if that was the case I might wish to suggest the name of someone else. I can see it now: ''Janet Heller has given us your name as one who is interested in planning for the future and resolving ahead of time the problem your death may create for your loved ones.''

The totally inappropriate timing of the solicitation letter was somewhat eased by the thoughtful sentence at the bottom of the page: ''We sincerely apologize if this material has arrived at a time of illness or sorrow; it was not intended, and is regretted.''

If reduced burial fees are being advertised right before Christmas, business really must be slow.

Perhaps things will pick up in the New Year when arteries are clogged to death by too much eggnog and fruit cake.

3' Janet Heller writes from Baltimore.

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