FREE NEWSLETTER

CDs and Cemeteries

Don Southworth

“A YEAR TO LIVE.” That’s the name of a class I’ve been teaching on and off for the past 20 years. My hope: Participants will gain more understanding, acceptance and peace about one of life’s few guarantees—death. This year’s class members have a little over five months left to live.

Every group is a little different. Some people resist the practicalities of preparing for death: putting things in writing, making medical and funeral arrangements, and divvying up their possessions. Others struggle with the spiritual and emotional preparations, such as making amends, letting go of control and telling those close to them how much they’ve meant.

Last month’s homework included visiting a local cemetery to reflect on how we’re doing. Less than half of this year’s class made time for the cemetery visit. Those who did reported little impact, saying that—since they plan on being cremated—the cemetery didn’t mean much to them.

I visited our local historical cemetery for the first time. I’ve loved cemeteries for as long as I can remember. I make a point of visiting them whenever I can. They’re one of the few public places where we acknowledge death.

Normally, I start by finding famous people’s plots, which are often a pilgrimage site. But this time, I couldn’t find the famous politicians’ or national championship coach’s resting places. I decided to find a shady spot, sit on a bench dedicated in memory to a loved one, and meditate. I was surrounded by the graves of Edward who died in 2017 at the age of 86, Nancy who died in 2013 at 77, and Titus Elijah who died at seven. Ken was born in 1942 and Jacqueline was born in 1947. No dates of death yet.

I was reminded, once again, that the rich and famous—like the rest of us—all end up in the same place. Some of us will have fresh flowers placed next to us once a year, some will have plastic year-round, and some will be strewn in a forest, an ocean or amongst the stars for eternity. I also thought about how much time and energy we spend making sure that our portfolios are just right, or that we have the best guaranteed rates on our annuities and certificates of deposit (CDs).

Our Weekly Newsletter

Planning and preparing for our financial future, and ensuring we have as much security as we can for ourselves and our loved ones, is a good thing. But so too is planning for, preparing for and, dare I say, embracing the one ultimate guarantee that comes with life—our death. We didn’t have much to do with how we came into this world. But we have a lot to do with how well we leave it—and how well we say goodbye to others.

If you haven’t visited a cemetery lately, I encourage you to do so. Fall is a lovely time to be outside and contemplate where we’re headed and will end up one day. Imagine the lives of those around you and think about what you have left to do before you say your last goodbyes. Maybe you have wills and medical directives to complete. Maybe you have some things to check off your ultimate to-do list. Maybe you have amends to make to yourself and to others. Spending a day remembering what ultimately awaits all of us has a way of clarifying our priorities and providing a sense of urgency for what we know we need to do.

Nobody can really predict where interest rates are going, or how much income our next CD ladder or dividend fund will produce. But we do our best to learn and study, so we achieve the best that we can get.

By contrast, everybody can predict where our life’s journey will end. Hopefully, we can all do our best to learn and study, so we get there with as much peace and preparation as possible.

Don Southworth is a semi-retired minister, consultant and tax preparer living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He recently completed his Certified Financial Planner education. Don is passionate about the intersection between spirituality and money, and he encourages people to follow their callings wherever they lead. Follow Don on Twitter @Calltrepreneur and check out his earlier articles.

Do you enjoy HumbleDollar? Please support our work with a donation. Want to receive daily email alerts about new articles? Click here. How about getting our weekly newsletter? Sign up now.

Browse Articles

Subscribe
Notify of
9 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
ostrichtacossaturn7593
ostrichtacossaturn7593
21 days ago

Don, do you teach this course in your church, or a community or university setting? I assume since the course lasts one year, and only 1/2 the class showed up for the cemetery visit, this is likely a voluntary course offering. I’d love to know more, or see a syllabus if you have one (Jonathan Clements knows how to reach me). And thanks for the stream of great articles with a spiritual slant to personal finance.

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
21 days ago

I have taught it mainly in church settings but am considering expanding it. Love to talk with you more about it.

Catherine
Catherine
22 days ago

Thank you for this piece.

My spouse and I never had a conversation about where or how to be buried, even though we completed most other financial and legal end-of-life planning tasks. Two days before he unexpectedly passed away after a very short illness, I asked him whether he wanted to talk about it. He shook his head, no. Okay, I said, but that meant I would decide, and he might end up with the Taj Mahal. His smile was all I needed in way of permission to put up a headstone or a monument. But where?

My brother had been something of a family history buff for a while, and so I knew the frustration that can come when you want to know where someone lived and died but there’s limited records. Because of that I wanted to put his remains somewhere established and where I’d feel comfortable that a grandchild or cousin could find his marker. Also near to home so I could visit him, easily, for at least a while. The kids and I decided what to engrave on the stone, including a couple of our favorite family sayings on the B side (headstones have a front and a back, after all.) Some excellent websites helped, especially
https://stoneletters.com/blog/memorial-quotes-headstone-epitaphs

It’s going on three years since he died, and I am so happy with our choices. What you say about visiting cemeteries is true. While most visitors at any given time are remembering someone in particular, there are always a few walkers and sometimes cyclists passing by. They see the short epigraph on the front. The few who wander more widely will find the sayings on the back. Both are remembrances of him that our family has shared with others now and in the future.

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
22 days ago
Reply to  Catherine

Thank you for sharing your story Catherine. Very moving. May his final resting place be a source of peace and happy memories for all who visit.

IAD
IAD
22 days ago

Great post Don! I had a family member pass recently and went to their funeral and burial in a cemetery. I was taken aback as it seemed the entire town had turned out and truly was a bookend of a life that started and ended in the same town. I’m wondering if cremation is becoming more popular as we move around more during our lifetime? Thinking of my own death, would I want to be buried where I was born or one of the three cities where I’ve lived my life. With my kids scattered as well, I wonder the point of a cemetery when any visit would be very infrequent. Cremation seems like the more logical choice……

parkslope
parkslope
22 days ago
Reply to  IAD

My father’s ashes are buried in a cemetery which will also be the case for my mother when she passes. Just thought I would point out that cremation doesn’t preclude burial or in any way lessen the meaning that family members get from visiting their loved one’s grave.

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
22 days ago
Reply to  IAD

Thanks IAD. Cremation is way more popular and preferred by most of the people I know. Me too. I think future generations will miss the chance to reconnect with their ancestors that the cemetery offers but can’t get in the way of “progress”.

Bob G
Bob G
23 days ago

Slightly off topic, but check out “The Dash” by Micky Lamantia. “The line between the years on his gravestone was much more than a dash.” You’ll never look at a gravestone the same way again.

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
22 days ago
Reply to  Bob G

Love a poem of that name Bob. In fact it’s the first thing I read when I start my class at the beginning of the year. Hadn’t heard the song though.

Last edited 22 days ago by Don Southworth

Free Newsletter

SHARE