A Grave Issue

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All right, folks, this is getting way out of hand.

The daily newspaper I subscribe to, The Globe and Mail, recently ran a short, four-paragraph item stating that it's traditional among some people in Ireland to be buried with one or more of their most prized possessions. I certainly hope that no one there has a particular love for a pet elephant. Should I adopt this custom, excess baggage on the journey to the hereafter won't be a problem because my most valued possessions--fear, uncertainty, and doubt--hardly take up any space at all.

Burying treasures along with their owners is not what bothers me. It's been going on at least since the time of the pharaohs--and likely well before that. What you want to have done with your stuff upon your demise is your business. It's my guess that they won't help you in any afterlife that may or may not exist and they will be infinitely better used by your heirs, but that's up to you to decide.

It's not the burial of your possessions beside you in your coffin that bugs me; it's what some people are choosing to inter with them that has me riled. According to the article, funeral directors in Ireland are increasingly honoring wishes to have cell phones spend eternity with their owners.

This is just plain silly. If there is a spirit world, I certainly don't want to be disturbed by telemarketers pestering me for all eternity, by other cell phones incessantly ringing around me (particularly considering the unbelievably annoying ring tones some people choose), or by my fellow spirits shouting into their phones as I attempt to stroll serenely through the Elysian Fields.

What do the people who choose to have their cell phones follow them into the eternal unknown think they're going to use them for? Are they planning to call for a pizza? Nobody really knows, but I suspect that death severely dampens your appetite. And I doubt that any delivery person will be too thrilled about "crossing over" to bring you a small pepperoni pizza and a side salad, no matter how big a tip you intend to give him.

On the upside (no heaven pun intended), if you call your friends after your funeral, you will likely cause them such heart-stopping fright that you will soon have some pleasant company joining you in heaven...or wherever.

To be fair, the article claimed that people are doing this for more practical, less ethereal reasons. It seems that some people fear that they will be buried alive. If they wake up in their coffin, they'd like to be able to have a nice chat with their friends and loved ones--and, no doubt, a less nice chat with the doctor who certified their death--when they do.

Being buried alive has never been a concern of mine. Understand, this is coming from someone who has turned worrying into a lifestyle and an art form. If I didn't worry, I don't know how I would fill my time. But when it comes to the fear that I'll be unintentionally buried alive, I'm sorry; my angst dance card is full.

I say "unintentionally buried alive" because I'm sure that there are one or two people out there who don't like me. That number has probably risen since I started writing this column. If any of them decide to bury me alive intentionally as a consequence of their feelings for me, I doubt they'll let me take my cell phone with me on that journey, so it's really not an issue in that case.

I believe that, at least in developed countries, the probability of being mistakenly buried alive is exceptionally small. Infinitesimal though it may be, the likelihood of the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup is much higher than the likelihood of my being prematurely interred, so I don't think it's worth considering in the least. I know; I know. Even if the probability of living internment is only one in 100 million, that still means that more than 60 people alive today should expect to be buried before ceasing to be alive but, super-worrier though I may be, I refuse to worry about the possibility of being one of them.

And another thing: As I walk through the city, there are a few scattered spots where my cell phone signal breaks up a bit. Do you really think you're going to be able to make a call with six feet of earth on top of you, in the middle of a cemetery, where cell phone companies probably haven't thought to put a tower? Somehow I doubt it. I think you'd have a better shot at being rescued if you tried knocking furiously on the walls of your coffin, hoping that a passerby will hear you and call for help before passing out from fright.

To their credit, funeral directors are concerned with some of the practical issues surrounding cell phone burials. The article said they recommend to families that the recently departed's (or the recently just napping's) cell phone be turned off so it won't accidentally ring during the funeral service and so that, if the presumed deceased person does need to use it, the phone will still have some battery power left. That's sound advice, but, making the probably faulty assumption that you will be able to get a cell phone signal in your hopefully not final resting place, I have a few more suggestions:

  • Before your death, discuss with your loved ones exactly where in your coffin they're going to put your cell phone. It's going to be rather dark down there, and there won't be a lot of excess oxygen. You won't want to have to spend a lot of time or exert a lot of energy hunting around for your phone.
  • Since it's going to be off when buried, spend most of your living hours practicing turning on your cell phone. (Hint: Blowing in its microphone usually won't turn it on.) Why is it a good idea to practice so much? Ditto on the dark thing. Most cell phone keyboards don't light up if the phone is off, so that's not going to help. To say the least, it would be rather unfortunate if you were to expend your last breath in a failed attempt to find the on switch.
  • As soon as you get a new phone, immediately use its memory feature to store important numbers like 911 and the number for the maintenance crew at the cemetery where you'll be buried. Don't put it off. You won't have any warning before being buried alive. Furthermore, your own human memory may be a bit hazy after waking up from a coma that's long enough and deep enough to convince a trained medical professional that you're dead. That's not a time when you want to hear, "The number you have dialed is not in service. Please check the number and try again." Your loved ones probably won't have the foresight to provide you with a phone book. Even if they do, there's still that illumination problem to contend with when looking up a number.
  • If you're on a monthly contract, give someone you trust enough money to pay your cell phone bill for a while after your supposed death. You'd hate to wake up in your coffin and find that your phone still has battery power but, because your account has been canceled, it is deader than you are.
  • Make sure you sign up with a cell phone company that has plenty of network capacity. You just never know how many people will be accidentally buried alive in the same cemetery and will be trying to make calls at the same time as you.
  • When deciding who you're going to call to come and rescue you, just to be on the safe side, you might want to bypass the beneficiary of your multi-million dollar life insurance policy.
  • If you're a highly respected CEO of a publicly traded company, resist the urge to, upon your reawakening, immediately use your cell phone to call a broker and buy shares in your company, knowing that news of your return will boost the stock. I see a few problems with that plan. First, having your obituary splashed on the front pages of the business press will make most brokers reluctant to accept your order. Second, if you wear down your phone's battery trying to find a broker who hasn't yet heard of your death, your efforts will be for naught should you no longer have enough power to call for help. Third, your plan is called "insider trading." The SEC will probably expect you to spend the rest of your newfound life in jail. It hardly seems worth the effort of getting out of your coffin. Fourth and finally, if it turns out that you were not as well respected a CEO as you thought and your company's stock soared after your alleged death and will crash should news of your return get out, the fit of depression when you learn the truth will likely kill you. Then again, making that call from your coffin will save your loved ones the trouble, misery, and expense of a second funeral.
  • Lastly, the best recommendation I can offer is to forget about it. Will your cell phone to one of your heirs, and just don't worry about it. Rest in peace, even in the incredibly unlikely event that you really are only resting. If you're concerned that, by forfeiting this fear, you will run out of serious things to worry about, call me. I've got a list that's far too long for me to cover in my lifetime, particularly if it's shortened by being accidentally buried alive. I'd be happy to share some of my anxieties with you. I've got plenty to spare.

Joel Klebanoff is a consultant, a writer, and president of Klebanoff Associates, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based marketing communications firm. He is also the author of BYTE-ing Satire, a compilation of a year's worth of his columns. Joel has 25 years experience working in IT, first as a programmer/analyst and then as a marketer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in computer science and an MBA, both from the University of Toronto. Contact Joel at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. In case he is buried alive, rather than his cell phone, he'd like to be interred with an exceptionally attractive, exceptionally alive woman who doesn't know the friend speech.