Karen Jones is quite cheerful for someone who has just spent a year or two of her life writing a book about death and funerals. An author of a romance novel and a marketing manual, she has a high, chirpy, sunny voice full of giggles, a lilting Virginia accent, and it’s not too surprising to find that she has a background in television and music, a job she was offered when somebody told her she had a great face. It was when the younger sister of a co-worker died that she saw what happens when grieving families must make costly decisions during one of the most stressful times in life. So Ms. Jones set out to write a short, easy-to-read guide to preparing for death and funerals, “Death for Beginners” (Quill Driver Books, $12.95). Ms. Jones, who will discuss the new book and sign copies of it at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State St., recently talked to the News-Press about everything from building your own coffin (!) to “green” deaths.
Q: Is this a book someone in their 20s or 30s should pick up? Is that too young to be thinking about a funeral?
A: Even if you are young and you’re healthy, you might want to get the book. You don’t have to figure out absolutely everything down to the last song you want played at your ceremony, but your might want to go ahead and make those big choices like, yeah, I want direct cremation. I think it’s important to make five or six big basic choices and write them down, like, “I want to be cremated but I want to have the big fancy viewing, so go ahead and rent me a coffin for the viewing and then put me in the cardboard box at the crematorium and let it rip.”
Q: You can rent coffins?
A: Yes, isn’t that great? So you can have the show casket for the big viewing or the ceremony and then you can be taken to the crematorium and cremated in a cardboard box, or you can be buried in the little tiny pine box. You could build your own coffin.
Q: Are there classes for that?
A: Totally! They have classes at several community colleges, especially way in the northwest, like in Oregon — they have community college courses where you can build your own coffin.
Q: Do attitudes on death change depending on where you are in the country?
A: Mostly by age. The older people want the traditional stuff, the younger people want to be shot out on the potato gun or have their ashes scattered by hot air balloon or turned into a diamond ring to give it to their friend or something like that. Your ashes can be made into anything, like a walking stick. The one that gave me the creeps was that your ashes could be put in an hourglass. It’s got its own weird kind of blackness to it.
Q: So what about the greening of funerals. Can we die and be environmental?
A: In the book, I have some listings of what they put in the ground (for traditional burials) and it’s thousands of pounds of steel and embalming fluid that just (don’t) go away. The green burial movement started in Britain, and it’s huge over there. There are some natural burial grounds where either your ashes or your full body can be buried and the cool thing about this is that most of these are nature preserves, where they actually have a deeded trust so the land cannot be developed into the next strip mall. It is held as a nature preserve, so they keep the land available for the birds and the bees and the animals, and you are planted in the ground. They don’t even put the markers up where your ashes are or your body is — they give you GPS coordinates. So if Aunt Suzy wants to, like, hike around in the woods and find you, she can.
Q: Like geocaching!?
A: Also, ashes are sterile; they don’t have any germs to them. They are very white, and environmentally friendly. Crematoriums are starting to use double and triple filters, so they don’t emit carbon gases.
Q: What should you prepare just in case you’re in some sudden accident and die too soon?
A: I do have a section in the book about, you know, how to organize your papers, how to organize all your computer stuff, how to leave directions for all of your websites and all of your social networking pages. Have a file in your house with your important papers and on the little tab just put ‘Death’ or ‘If I Die,’ because nobody wants to say “when.” And you can go to my website (deathforbeginners.com) and there are 40 or so pages of worksheets. You don’t have to fill them all out, but you can just jot down the basics, so if something happens to you before you are ready, people will know what to do and not waste money. I am telling you a funeral today costs $10,000, Honey. That’s not talking about the cemetery plot and then the vault that will cost you $1,000 or more that goes over the top of the casket. If you go ahead and just write down some of your choices, the people who are left behind will be able to make better choices. It will save everybody money and it’s a nice thing to do for your family.
Q: So, the obvious question: How are you going to go out when you die?
A: I’m going to be cremated. I’m going to be sprinkled in the Chesapeake Bay. I am going to have a ceremony/party on the oceanfront with champagne and really loud rock ‘n’ roll — Led Zeppelin, Rush, Gregg Allman — and lots and lots of reading and lots of stories. Just that knockdown, drag-out rock ‘n’ roll party.
Q: Did writing your book make you come to that decision?
A: It did, because I thought maybe it would be traditional, and I would have people weeping and all that kind of stuff. But I don’t know I’ve been on the road with rock ‘n’ roll bands and I’ve been (on) TV and I’ve had a lot of fun. So it’s like, no, we are going to party on, Dude! All of my friends are TV and music people. So I just said, “To heck with this traditional stuff, everybody can just suck it up!” So that’s how I decided to be cremated, sprinkled in the Chesapeake Bay and then a big rock ‘n’ roll party. No potato guns for me!
WHAT: Karen Jones signs copies of her new book, ?Death for Beginners?
WHEN: 7 p.m. Aug. 26
WHERE: Chaucer’s Books, 3321 State St.
INFORMATION: (805) 682-6787