- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2008

Jean Snyder lived, as they say, a good, long life. A native of Indianapolis, the young woman with a quick wit and artistic flair graduated from high school in 1941 and worked as a retail clerk. In 1945, she married her sweetheart, Bill, after an 11-day, whirlwind romance that began beneath the star-covered ceiling at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. Eventually, they cashed in the equity on their home to open a successful service station. A few years later, Mrs. Snyder gave birth to their only child, a girl.

They were the epitome of decent, hardworking Midwesterners. So with her father already gone for several years, daughter Pat Pickett knew she wanted to give her mother a dignified send-off.

They agreed it would be a simple affair. Mrs. Snyder received $1,500 a month from Social Security, but didn’t have much in the way of savings after she paid for medication and insurance to supplement her Medicare. She also insisted on giving her daughter money for utilities and other expenses in the home they shared in Noblesville, Ind., a leafy suburban village a few miles north of Indianapolis.

Mrs. Snyder, who was 84 when she died last month, also had no life insurance.

“Now, it’s not like we’re indigent … but I have little to spare, as well,” says Mrs. Pickett, 49, a former journalist who now works in marketing . Divorced and living without a steady paycheck for a while, she has watched as houses on either side of her own have gone into foreclosure.

She also spent much of her time and resources in the last three years caring for her mother, who learned a year ago that her lung cancer had returned. So, like a lot of family members faced with funeral expenses, especially in these tough financial times, Mrs. Pickett was taken aback at the cost of laying her mother to rest.

“A very, very simple cremation, no urn, just a plastic box, guest book, memorial cards,” she says, listing the expenses, which she tried to keep low.

For the memorial service, she rented the local inn at a municipal park for $430, but supplied her own boom box for music so she didn’t have to pay an extra $100 to use the sound system. Co-workers and her employer provided the food for the 50 or so guests who attended.

Told it would cost $2,000 to run the full-length obituary she’d written for the Indianapolis paper, Mrs. Pickett also opted for a short “freebie” provided by the funeral home and posted the longer piece on her Facebook page and in the smaller Noblesville paper.

It was even simpler than Mrs. Pickett had first envisioned. And still the grand total was about $3,300.

“It pretty much emptied out her account,” she says of the savings her mother had left when she died quietly in her own bed, with her daughter holding her hand.

The memorial service took place the week after on a cool, rainy morning at Noblesville’s Forest Park Inn, adjacent to the Little Beauty carousel and Tom Thumb miniature golf course.

Last year, Mrs. Pickett had taken her mother to the inn for a memorial service for her friend Sylvia, and Mrs. Snyder liked the look of it.

“This is nice,” she had said at the time. “This is just what I would want.”

As she planned her mother’s service, Mrs. Pickett found herself feeling grateful to “little Sylvia” for helping her mother clarify her wishes - to help her know that what she was doing for her mother was enough, even though she’d worked so hard to keep the cost low.

Dealing with the high cost of dying is especially difficult when many people are just scraping by.

But in the end, what would have been important to her mother, Mrs. Pickett says, were the people who were there: her grandchildren, first great-grandchild Charlie and other family; old friends and new ones she’d made while attending cardiac rehabilitation; the family doctor who still made house calls in her final months and gave Mrs. Pickett his cell-phone number, telling her to call any time.

“I think we get caught up in the luxury of this and that. But this is how most of America does this,” Mrs. Pickett says of the service for her mother. “This is how real America lives.”

And this, too, is how many of us die.

To prepare for the service, Mrs. Pickett and her two grown daughters assembled old photographs of Mrs. Snyder, a dark-haired beauty in her early years who, later in life, was known as “Granny Bunhead” to her granddaughters because of the large, sculpted bun of silver hair she wore atop her head.

But what, Mrs. Pickett wondered, could she do with the ashes?

With no fancy urn, she decided to wrap them and the plastic box like a gift. She carefully placed it on a table at the front of the room, near a glowing fireplace and a large bouquet of pink roses, carnations and gladiolas.

A nod to Mrs. Snyder’s sense of humor and flair for the dramatic, she also kept a shiny disco ball that hung above the room spinning throughout the service.

Mrs. Pickett decided to speak, with a promise from her daughters to back her up if she fell to pieces - which she didn’t.

She described a mother who was a storyteller, an artist and poet, a fashion plate, and a caretaker who, later in life, became a fan of Jimmy Buffett and margaritas.

“If you spoke with her very long, you knew that what she thought was right,” chaplain Derek Hansen said, evoking strong laughter. “And she usually was.”

It was never about wanting an elaborate funeral. It was more about hating to say goodbye - one of her biggest regrets that she wouldn’t get to know her great-grandson, who was born last summer.

So on Thanksgiving morning, the family will gather, keeping the gift-wrapped ashes nearby. They’ll put on the Christmas music for the first time this season, as they always have, and cook together, baking the rolls and pies that Granny Bunhead would’ve made, and setting the table just so, as she would’ve insisted.

The next day, they will put up the Christmas tree.

“Though it will certainly be sad this year, taking out all those ornaments she and we collected over the years,” Mrs. Pickett says.

No matter, she says. This is how her mother would want them to remember her.

This, she says, is what really matters.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide