The world seems intent on burying me. Today I received the third offer in a week to buy burial insurance. “Have you made your final arrangements?” (I’m still wondering what I’ll have for lunch,) and “Will your loved ones be burdened by your passing?” (I hope so) and “When your time comes will you be ready?” (I’ve been ready since church camp in Wheaton, Illinois, back in the 1950’s.) Week after week my mailbox resembles a small coffin of ads for burial insurance. One flier called it “Bereavement Protection.” It all makes me feel . . . well. . .bereaved.
A young fellow showed up at my door last week with a clipboard in hand. Since he was traveling solo I ruled out roving Mormons and answered the door. “Hi, I’m Rick Sturgeon and I’m with First Federated Mutual. It says here that you recently turned 65.”
I stared at him. “It says that where?”
He consulted his list. “It’s a list of people in your area who’ve recently turned 65.”
I said, “I know that, but where’d you get the list?”
He told me that it was a matter of public record. I asked him what he was selling. “Oh, I’m not selling. I’m just checking with folks to see if they’re adequately covered in case something should happen.”
I replied that several things had happened already that morning. . . I’d gotten out of bed, showered, fixed some oatmeal, read a bit of the Psalms, then checked my email. I didn’t need insurance for any of those things even though the oatmeal tasted a bit off.
The young man would not be put off. “In case you die. . .”
“The oatmeal wasn’t that bad.”
“But I mean in case you pass away. . .”
“In case? It’s a sure thing. I am going to pass away, and even though I doubt your name is on that list, you will, too.”
He was a genuinely nice young fellow and although his collar was too big for his neck and tie, I chatted with him a moment. This was obviously his first real job and even if I found it a bit odd that his entry-level position was to help me with my exit, I let him give his sales pitch.
“You know, most people aren’t prepared at times like those.”
“Times like those?” (Sorry, I couldn’t help but bait him.)
“You know. . . when they pass away.”
“I’ve never understood why it took that much preparation. I mean, It’s not like you’re packing for a trip to Branson.”
“But the financial end of things. . . you know. . . funerals can be expensive.”
“I know,” I said. “I’ve already paid for mine.”
I’d gone too far here. The pale of death came over the young kid’s face. He was trying to sell ice to an Eskimo. “Then you . . .”
“Yep. I’ve already removed the terrible burden from my loved ones. Now they’re waiting for me to remove the rest of the burden and die.”
Joking had not been a part of the young salesman’s training. He swallowed hard then said, “I’m sorry.” Heck, I was the one who was sorry. The kid was trying to earn a living by helping folks with their dying and I was killing off his chances for any sort of life in the profession. “That’s okay. If I’m still around at my funeral I’ll send you an invitation.” He blinked, and for the first time a smile came over his face. “Hey listen,” I said. “This town’s just full of people even older than me and some of them probably haven’t planned lunch, much less their own funeral. I think you’ll have some luck if you keep knocking on doors.” He thanked me for my time then climbed in his beater of a car and eased down the street, looking for someone with a pronounced limp, I suppose.
And God forgive me, but when the kid drove away all I could think of was a vision of buzzards circling. “Look! He’s just turned 65! Think he’ll make it ‘til Christmas?” Somewhere buried deep in the bowels of a musty warehouse in Washington there must be a list of senior citizens, laying wide open for the taking by insurance salesmen, hearing aid companies, prostate doctors, and bingo parlors. Once your name gets on the list you become prey for young men in ill-fitting collars to come knock on your door. They’ll be the death of me.