For couples, deciding where to be buried is a complex decision
MOORHEAD, Minn. -- When funeral director Tom Pence and his wife began discussing where they'd be buried he thought about the likelihood of family members visiting their grave at his family's cemetery and hers. Brenda Olney, Pence's wife, hails fr...
MOORHEAD, Minn. -- When funeral director Tom Pence and his wife began discussing where they'd be buried he thought about the likelihood of family members visiting their grave at his family's cemetery and hers.
Brenda Olney, Pence's wife, hails from Flaxton, N.D., a tiny border town in the state's northwest. He hails from Minot, N.D., the state's fourth largest city and 90 miles by road from Flaxton.
They chose her family's cemetery over his.
Pence said his family has scattered and few of its members are left in Minot. "Not to be callous but I don't anticipate a lot of people going back to pay their respects."
But in Flaxton, Olney said, she has two sons and her brother's family.
These kinds of discussions are common among couples who plan their own funeral, according to Pence, who works for Korsmo Funeral Service in Moorhead, and other area funeral directors. But the discussions have become more complex as families move far apart and rural areas, where many families have cemeteries, lose population.
It's still very common for couples to follow tradition and be buried together with one spouse's parents, according to the funeral directors. In some cases, spouses may choose to be buried separately so each could be with his or her parents.
"When I grew up in the north side of Fargo, you pretty much knew where your grandparents and maybe even where your great grandparents were," said Larry Boulger, owner of Boulger Funeral Home in Fargo. But he said there are now many competing alternatives to burial with family.
Many couples prefer to burial in whatever town they have lived in for a long time and consider home, he said, and that may mean the church near the lake cabin they've retired to. Some prefer burial in the area where some of their children live, he said, though that's become less common as the younger generation is more mobile.
Despite the growing popularity of cremation, Pence said people still prefer to have their cremated remains in a fixed location where family can gather, which could mean a lot in the cemetery or a niche in a columbarium. He and his wife plan to be cremated and buried in one lot in Flaxton, they said.
Couples are also thinking long-term about their final resting place, according to Boulger. Cemeteries that appear like they'll be well taken care of long into the future are preferred, which may rule out some isolated rural cemeteries. Couples also prefer cemeteries with programs that can bring family back together, such as services on Memorial Day and on holidays specific to their religions.
Though the choices are many, Pence and other funeral directors say it's rare that couples will fight about where they'll be buried. More often than not, it's a practical consideration.
For the living
The location of the cemetery is one of the first things on the funeral-planning checklist that many funeral homes have on their websites. But few couples do much planning until later in life, according to John Runsvold, owner of Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home in Fargo.
"Very few people that I do are under 65," he said. If they're younger, it's usually because they have a terminal disease, he said.
"It's kind of an avoidance thing. They don't do it. They don't talk about. It's not going to happen," Pence said. In his late 50s, he and his his wife are the exception, he said.
Olney said they've been talking about funeral planning for decades without actually planning, and it had begun to remind her of that old saying about "the shoemaker's kids have no shoes."
"We haven't done all of our planning for our funeral yet. Here he is a funeral director and we haven't done ours," she said.
Other parts of a funeral plan include things such as what goes into the obituary, the type of casket or urn, a religious or secular service, the flower arrangement and music, according to the checklist. Some couples put away money in a tax-free funeral fund to guarantee they'll have enough to pay for the funeral they want.
Pence and Olney said they're making progress, having decided already where they'll be buried -- they still have to decide if they'll buy a lot or if a lot her father bought is free -- and they know their gravestones will look like -- his with a soccer ball and hers with wheat.
He said it's reassuring for family to know what the dead wanted rather than have to interpret their wishes at what's usually a very stressful time. When his parents died, he said, it was a relief to know they had a plan and money set aside.
Plus, he said, he wouldn't want his children to guess and maybe pick something he wouldn't wish to be caught with; he rolled his eyes at the thought of stained glass.