By Don Chapman
March 5, 2008

My kids have probably received better Christmas presents than the one I gave them a couple of months ago – a funeral plan for their dear old Dad.

Uh, gee, thanks.

But they’ve never received a more expensive gift – not counting college – not to mention one that will save them a lot of hassles and headaches on the day that is certain to come, and in the days after.

No, as I reassured them and a couple of friends with whom I shared this news, I am not planning on being dead any time soon. I’m in good health, exercise more days than not, passed a treadmill stress test last year, love my work and love my life. I plan on being around for quite a while, enjoying my version of the good life in Hawaii.

But you never know, and this was something I felt that I needed to take care of. I share it now with MidWeek readers only as something you may want to think about for yourself. Or not.

Look at it this way: We buy car insurance and home insurance, not knowing if we’ll ever need them. So why not buy “insurance” for one of the few certainties in life?

I’d actually been thinking about buying a funeral plan for a few years, but always managed to put it off. But then last fall I received a mailer from Hawaiian Memorial Park. Not long after, I was sitting down at the Kaneohe cemetery with Linda Herman to look at and talk about all of the options.

Linda was very informative and helpful, and I actually found the process to be interesting – thinking through how I want to be dead. What I decided is that when the time comes, I want to be dead in a way that is consistent with how I’ve lived (minus the, uh, deadlines).

Before meeting with Linda, I was pretty certain I wanted to be cremated. Going through the process with her, I decided that’s definitely what I want.

But then what? Linda drove me out to a scenic overlook at Hawaiian Memorial Park, where urns are entombed in a variety of stones or in large family settings. As a single guy, I was just looking for a puka, and found a spot beside a babbling waterfall with both mountain and ocean views. It’s a lovely spot, and for a day I thought about being there. On a return visit, though, I realized that my urn would be about a foot away from a woman,

Margaret somebody, born 1941, died 2005. She was probably a very nice person, but I didn’t know her. And what if she talks all the time?

So I ultimately decided to have my kids scatter my ashes at a special place at the base of the Ko’olau mountains with a view of Kaneohe Bay (and even of the MidWeek plant; the editor will be watching). It’s a beautiful, peaceful place, one to which I’ve taken them and other family and friends over the years. The kids and I went there when my daughter Dawn was home for Christmas, and as she said, “This is like your sanctuary here, Dad. I can’t imagine you being anywhere else.”

Or as my son Kai said, “Yeah, Pops, I can see coming up here and having a couple of beers with you … Eh, howzit, home boy?”

The package I bought, including cremation and a funeral service, came to about $4,500. I also bought what could be my last plane trip to Honolulu. If I die off Oahu, the cost of my ticket home is paid. (Do you get miles with that?)

The package also came with a sort of workbook, in which I left my kids information on financial accounts, Social Security, insurance and other information they’ll need, including names and numbers of people I’d like to be notified.

At the same time, I contacted the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine and filled out papers to become a Willed Body Program donor.

Hey, if there’s a body that should be studied by science, it’s this one!

When UH medical students are done with me after a year or so, the school will cremate me and return me to my kids, after a ceremony in which other body donors are also honored. Medical students say their best teachers are these body donors, and it’s comforting to think I’ll be doing some good when I’m gone – that a person yet unborn at the time of my demise will benefit years later from a medical student’s hands-on education.

And if UH accepts me – gosh, I feel like a hopeful would-be freshman again! – my kids can roll over (so to speak) my funeral plan to use for themselves or get a partial refund. Up to them.

For more information on the UH program, Google “jabsom” and then click on departments, then on Anatomy. There’s a link to the Willed Body Program in the second paragraph.

Now that all this is decided, I feel a kind of calm – knowing that I’m choosing how and where I’ll be dead, and that my kids will not have to worry about taking care of (and paying for) all this. As Linda Herman put it, heartache is bad enough without the headaches.

By the way, my kids (now 24 and nearly 23) also got another present for Christmas. I took our old Hi-8 home videos to Alan Nielsen at Affordable Image, and he converted them to DVDs, about 10 hours in all. They enjoyed seeing and hearing themselves again as children as much as I did, and they say this one does rate among the best presents they’ve ever received.