Question: What's spookier than walking through a cemetery at night and stumbling over a dead soul's headstone?
Answer: Walking through a cemetery and stumbling over the headstone of a person who's still living.I know. I've done both.
More and more, you find "unoccupied" headstones in cemeteries. Today's oldster like to take care of their own "final arrangements." In fact, Salt Lake Monument says 40 percent of its sales last July (and 85 percent of its income) came from selling "pre-need" headstones - headstones for the living.
Like the Hollywood archives, cemeteries are filling up with unused plots.
The practice probably does help elderly people rest easier at night. But it does present complications.
Last year on Memorial Day, my sister-in-law Jean apologized to two total strangers because she hadn't decorated her living parents' grave.
Think about that.
And when a friend visited from Mexico last year, we had our own little drama to play out. We took him on a cemetery walk there.
"This is my father and mother's grave," my wife told him.
"When did they die?" the friend asked.
"They're not dead," she said.
The kid about fainted.
"And this," said my wife, "is the grave of my great-grandfather."
The boy's eyes popped. "You mean he's still alive, too?" he said.
Filling cemeteries with "pre-need" headstones can lead to a lot of humorous stuff like that.
But sometimes, it can also lead to the willies.
Not long ago I was taking a stroll through the Brigham City cemetery when I happened by the headstone of Olive Hume. Olive was the mother of one of my boyhood friends. When we'd camp out on his lawn, Olive would cook us Danish pastries for breakfast. She was quite a person; warm, devoted, with just a touch of Old World charm about her.
As I walked along, head down, I missed her and wondered how her family was getting along without her. Then I turned a corner and - Wham! There was Olive Hume walking toward me. For two seconds I was Scrooge confronting the ghost of Christmas Past.
"Olive!" I said. "You're looking . . . lively."
By the look on my face, I'm sure she figured I'd been up there desecrating graves and she'd caught me red-handed.
In the end, not knowing who's alive and who's dead can be bothersome, but it does make for good stories.
I remember a story about J. Golden Kimball, the Mormon apostle. He'd been asked to attend a funeral in Idaho and say a few words about the dear departed. As he was squeaking along in his aging voice, he looked out into the audience and there - in the congregation - was the very man he thought he'd come to eulogize. Kimball stopped in mid-sentence. Then he turned around to the people behind him.
"Bishop," he said, "just who the *$%#@ is dead around here anyway!"