Shopping Trip

So Walmart is selling caskets. Why would they not?

When I was growing up, the monthly magazine Chain Store Age sat on our coffee table. Chain Store Age had articles about all the latest merchandising cons. My dad taught me to love a good con like undercutting K-Mart on the price of Aqua-Net and having parakeets and goldfish in our Ben Franklin Store. Mom’ll come in for the hair spray, he told me, or the kids will drag her in to see the birds.

I swear when I read that Walmart is selling caskets, I wanted to spurt out, “More power to ya,” just like my dad, old Roy, would have. Except he wouldn’t because he despised the ‘big guys’ as he called them although when he was in business there really was no Walmart. The big guys or big guy, as it were, was K-Mart. K-Mart the hated. If I bought something at K-Mart, which I never would, I had better burn the bag before I got home. My dad could smell K-Mart on me better than he could smell some high school fumbler’s sweaty advances. One did not mess with such zealotry.

Anyway, when I saw this Walmart casket business, I thought, hey, why not? Better yet would be to order a coffin on Amazon although the delivery logistics seem baffling. Anything that would involve sitting with a drink and a laptop and clicking through different coffins, different linings, hues, buffs, shines, handles, insignias seems so civilized and calm to me, remote, arms-length. How do we just get this death and funeral thing done with the least amount of hassle and stress?

I went with my father to the funeral home to pick out the casket for my mother. The showroom was in the lower level, the basement actually. We went down the stairs together and walked from casket to casket. Some were obviously not ‘her.’ They were too male, too lawyer’s office wood and plush. Others were too fancy, the white ones in particular seemed showy. He wasted no time picking out a very pale pink casket with a white lining, I think it was white, I’m not sure. I’m now trying to see, in my mind’s eye, my mother’s head resting on the satin pillow the next day at her wake but I can’t see it. The lining may also have been pink. I remember nothing except she was wearing my pearl earrings and the locket my father had given her 65 years before.

Halfway up the stairs, my father turned back. “I changed my mind,” he said.

So there were two remarkable things that had never happened before: my mother died and my father changed his mind.

He walked back across the casket showroom and tapped another casket, this one pink but burnished, it had a rich shine to it. He ran his hand along the side, feeling the finish. I knew it must have cost more money. “She’d like this one better, I think.”

“What do you think?”

Now there was a third remarkable thing that never happened before: my father asked my opinion.

“I think she would like it a lot, Dad.” What else would I say? I had never thought about how a pink casket would go with my mother’s style. It never occurred to me, when she was living, to think of her in a casket. She was always so tailored, so put together. I can’t ever remember her wearing pink, tolerating a ruffle. She was all about straight lines, belted pencil skirts, and t-strap heels. What about death would make her suddenly like a pink casket?

As if it would matter. The only person that mattered at the moment was her husband who, when faced with the options, thought of her as buried best in a burnished pink casket. My only job was to tell him he was right.

We could have done all this at Walmart in the department next to the sewing notions and crock pots or even online peering into a tiny computer screen.

But it wouldn’t have been the same.


4 Comments on “Shopping Trip

  1. Gosh darn it. You made me cry. When my mom died my husband, my grandmother, my sister-in-law, and I went with Daddy to the funeral home to choose a casket.

    We stood back and watched him go from one to the next. I could tell which ones he really liked, but he wasn’t making a decision. He said something in a low voice to the funeral director who brought out this blue corrugated looking box.

    Mom’s cancer treatments had eaten up all their savings and that was all he could afford. We had no idea! He broke down in tears. My husband and I had zero extra cash at the time, but my sister in law quietly stepped away and called my brother who said he’d take care of whatever casket we picked out.

    When daddy died David and I paid for his funeral. Death is hard. It shouldn’t be made harder, right? Maybe Walmart is the way to go!

  2. You just put a very large lump in my throat, but it’s a lovely post. And while it’s a sad memory it seems like a very sweet one of your father.

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