Ready!

Bill-newby L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B .

During the past year or so I have sought to arrest my smouldering inclination to accumulate things and to replace the wolfish habit with something approaching material pragmatism (or what anyone else might derisively call common sense). I can’t take any personal credit for the modification.  Likely it’s just an accident of aging.  Even the most rapacious eventually tire of collecting stuff. The transition from profligacy to austerity was accomplished by incremental diminution characterized at first by moderation and then a gradual fading out.  It may have helped to have awoken to the jarring reality that I was living proof that you can’t have money and things.  Whatever the cause I was a reformed materialist.  Or so I thought.

Materialism like any other addictive appetite is one which is never entirely extinguished.  And as with all other addictions it doesn’t help to deal only with the symptom rather than the cause.  I had successfully dealt with the symptom.  The surplusage of objects in my life had been critically and fatally attacked.  If it didn’t go in the dishwasher, it was out!  If it needed to be polished, it was rejected!  If it constituted a rider on the household insurance policy, it was gone!  Anything which required annual or more frequent maintenance was history!  In short I was determined to live with what I needed and what was self-sustaining.  Sounds frightfully modern, won’t you agree?  Yet I still hadn’t cured the cause of the inherent defect. My revelation was as short-lived as any other conversion. And by conversion I mean more than spiritual renewal. I mean that the conversion of my stuff to cash didn’t even help.  I remained in the grip of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature.

Grant me if you will a degree of determination.  Certainly now and again I had relaxed my clenched fist about my pocketbook sufficiently to indulge in a small treat but nothing significant.  I was still on the right course.  I had skilfully resisted the temptation of art and baubles. I had convinced myself of the futility and guaranteed degeneration of the material world.  Nothing was about to deter me. That is until my resoluteness collided with the novelty of the pre-arranged funeral.  Suddenly I had attained the intersection of money and things, expenditure and common sense, Yin and Yang by any standard!  I was on the very threshold of discovery and enlightenment.  How else does one describe the consummate utility of addressing the ultimate?  This was the cat’s pyjamas!

It is a little known fact that there is at law no property in a corpse.  In practical terms this means that the disposition of one’s mortal remains is solely within the dominion of one’s executor (who at the least has a qualified property interest in trust for burial).  Denying the commercial character of “property” in a corpse is easily understood by considering whether it were legal for a creditor to arrest a corpse (such as was done to the poet Dryden). Even if one were to divide the nature of property between a right of possession and the thing itself, it still doesn’t overcome what is considered revolting to the courts.  As palatable as this conclusion may be it nonetheless remains that the disposition of a corpse is the absolute or qualified right of the executor not the deceased.  This means that taken to its extreme the executor may snap his fingers at the terms of a funeral prearranged by the deceased.  The fact that the executor has rights over a body for burial necessarily leads to the conclusion that the executor has the exclusive right to determine the manner of burial.

In spite of this admittedly esoteric knowledge the general consensus is that the “family” (being the next-of-kin or lawful beneficiaries) will customarily honour the wishes of the deceased.  It is for this reason that years ago, upon the untimely death of a dear friend, I determined to prearrange my own funeral to avoid the hiatus which my friend had unwittingly imposed on his family.  Among the arrangements I made was the purchase of a plot in a local cemetery, the cost of which was appropriately divided between the 40 square foot real estate and perpetual care. This morning I visited the plot which I purchased decades ago.  Although there are a number of plots which have tombstones that are more anticipatory than historical (the date of death has yet to be added) my particular plot is nothing more than an unadorned grassy area.  It pleases me however that two of my neighbours are deceased former clients of mine.  I also discovered that my plot has road access as my plot immediately adjoins one of the pathways of the cemetery. As a  former real estate lawyer I can but admire the serendipity.  Road access was an issue which traditionally disrupted the conveyance of cottage lots in particular but also certain residential lots upon the advent of universal zoning by-laws.  It’s nice to know this question will not be a muddling topic for debate.   Plus I have what amounts to a corner lot which as anyone knows traditionally commands a special value.  And it is on high land so there is no fear of being washed away.

What however is missing is a tombstone.  While all this was fresh upon my mind I determined to call a local monument company to enquire about having a tombstone erected upon my plot.  A visit to the cemetery will readily disclose that I am not the first to fathom this indulgence.  I won’t say it is popular nor even common.  But I will say it addresses a multitude of cravings which are even more deeply ingrained than furnishings or objets d’art.  It is obvious too that a tombstone is one’s final testament.  Certainly there are those who would prefer something grand and imposing.  I am even reminded of the comedy associated with the inscriptions on tombstones I’ve seen in Key West, Florida (“I told you I was sick”, “Now she’ll know where I am at night” and so on).  Whatever the decision, it is at least probable that the family will respect the choice of tombstone.  And commissioning the tombstone is the most fun I’ve had shopping in years!