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To Live, but Not Die, in LA

A cemetery tour raises several issues, not the least of which involves dropping fifty grand on a small piece of land I can't build on

By Dennis Danziger

Ethel Krinsky wants me dead.

Not right away. Not until I put down a $3,500 deposit on my burial plot.

Ethel also wants all my financial information: bank accounts, stocks, bonds, IRAs and all my revenue streams. I'm surprised she hasn't asked for my passwords. I assume that's coming.

A palm tree lined street with the Hollywood sign far off in the distance. Next Avenue, burial costs
"I figured funeral/burial shopping would be easy, and I told Amy I'd handle it."  |  Credit: Jake Blucker

Ethel seems like a caring woman, but I can't help but wonder about the commission she'll make on my death. After all, Ethel is in the funeral business. And unlike my Toyota dealer, she doesn't have return customers. With Ethel, I'm one and done.

"Too far. Too country. I'm a city guy."

Until my friend Davy died suddenly of a heart attack, I hadn't seriously considered my final resting place. Davy was the first friend I made when I moved to LA in 1979. He was my confidant, racquetball partner, breakfast buddy and a man I admired and loved.

After his funeral, I began to think more seriously about the day when either I, or my wife, Amy, dies. I figured funeral/burial shopping would be easy, and I told Amy I'd handle it.

"What about where Davy's buried?" she asked. "It's beautiful."

"Too far. Too country. I'm a city guy."

To my surprise, I found a cemetery minutes from our house that checked four boxes: Jewish cemetery, urban setting, offering green burials, convenient for my kids to visit.

When I told Amy, she told me she'd always thought she'd be cremated and have her ashes spread off Cape Cod, but as we were driving to the cemetery, she said, "Turns out cremation's bad for the environment."

"Well, I'm not getting cremated. The Jewish tradition doesn't allow it."

"You don't keep any of the traditions," she argued. "I'm keeping that one," I said.

Paging Through Information

Ethel Krinsky greeted us, handed us masks and information booklets and we began to talk. As she and Amy discussed green burials, I flipped through the booklet to get my bearings.

Basic Services: $4,000

Caskets: Price range - $1,250 to $15,000

Video Montage: $700. I figured I'd pick out some still photos in advance and ask my daughter to bring them to the service and place them in the entryway, next to the:

Register Book: $225

Shomer: $30 an hour (12-hour minimum) $360. The shomer sits with the body and prays. I don't need anyone sitting with me. I'm not going to be going anywhere.

Eventually Ethel handed us off to Dov, and we followed him outside, over to the green burial section. The cemetery was as expansive and manicured as the loveliest golf courses; the green burial area, the size of a pickleball court, was tucked far away, at the edge of the property.

I immediately liked it. It was green, and it felt tranquil and private, feelings I'm always after.  


Left With Many Questions

Dov, a kind, middle-aged man, smiled at us as he spoke admiringly of the ecological benefits of green burials. I was ready to sign when Amy pointed at the wall across the way. "Tell us about that," she said.

"Compartments at eye level start at $17,000. As you move up or down the wall, the price decreases."

It was a wall crypt divided into hundreds of compartments that looked like safety deposit boxes. "For those who choose cremation, your urn can be stored here," Dov said. "Compartments at eye level start at $17,000. As you move up or down the wall, the price decreases."

"So for the top row where someone has to climb a ladder to slide in the urn?" Amy asked.

"Twelve thousand."

I looked at Amy, wondering how she was feeling but not wanting to ask until we were alone. Still, I had to be honest.

"I love the green burial," I said. "No pine box. Just a shroud. Simple. Dust to dust. I love that. How much for a green burial?"

"Two prices," Dov said. "Depending on whether you wish to have an individual plot or a double."  

"Next to each other?" Amy asked.

"One on top of the other," Dov explained.

"So, if I die first, I get the bottom bunk?" I asked. "Exactly, and it's cost effective," Dov smiled.

Amy and I both cocked our heads. "How much?"

"40,000 for one plot, $60,000 for a double."

Amy and I had been holding hands, and now, for the first time, I squeezed hers. It was a signal for "Let's go."  

As we drove home, we were quiet until I blurted out, "Forty for one. Sixty for two. They're bundling. Like Spectrum or T-Mobile."

I've lived in LA for 44 years, but that day I understood that I can live here, but I can't die here —not without dropping fifty grand on a small piece of land I can't build on.

Ever since our cemetery tour, Amy and I have been discussing our options. We've talked about my family's plot in Houston, but I spent my entire youth trying to get out of Houston, and I'm not going back. We've talked about Amy's family's plot in Cleveland, but I've never been a cold weather guy. 

And besides, whichever of us survives the other will have to arrange transporting the other's body halfway across the country, while mourning. Seems complicated, expensive and sad. The whole point of this pre-planning was to ease the burden on the surviving partner. Alas, we've hit a wall.

For our ages, 72 and 71, we're in excellent health, but we both know that could change in a flash. And if and when either of us faces a serious health problem — which seems inevitable —care will impact our finances, and everything else.

A Familiar Option

Recently, Ethel Krinsky called to check in. I told her we were still discussing, but that her place was too expensive. She suggested the cemetery where her friend, Ailene, works. It's the place my pal Davy is buried.

And maybe, this is where we'll eventually end up. Our plots, side by side, facing a mountain, way out of town.

Ethel gave me Ailene's number, and when I called she crooned about their acres of beautiful space. "Wherever you're standing on our property, you have a mountain view. And we have many options, in many price ranges," she said.

"So I hear."   

"Next time you come to pay respect to your friend, please drop by my office."

"Thanks. We will," I said.

Ailene's place doesn't check all the boxes, but Amy and I are planning to drive there, place a stone on Davy's headstone, walk around. I'll talk about how much I miss my friend, how his loss has left a hole in my heart.

Amy and I will hold hands and check out the mountain views and read the engravings on people's headstones. And maybe, this is where we'll eventually end up. Our plots, side by side, facing a mountain, way out of town. Near my best friend.

Dennis Danziger
Dennis Danziger is the co-founder of the non-profit POPS the Club. This essay is from his memoir-in-progress, Downwardly Mobile: How to Lead a Rich Life While Going Broke, A Teacher's Story.
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