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You’re not dead until government says you’re dead

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POSTED January 8, 2013 12:08 a.m.

I used to laugh when I heard someone say, “You’re not dead until the government says you’re dead.”

I thought that was just a sarcastic comment about the government being the Big Brother.

Well, I’m not laughing anymore. The laughter stopped when Grandma Risso died on May 5, 2012. That’s when I met reality and made me junk the joke once and for all.

My husband and I had the honor of making all the arrangements for grandma’s funeral services, with Grandpa Risso’s blessings. Full disclosure: my meticulous better half did the lion’s share of the work which included driving to the Catholic cemetery in Colma where Grandpa had purchased in the 1960s burial crypts in the mausoleum there. (More on that later.) I was mainly the gofer, among a few things I had to do such as preparing the obituary notice for the Manteca Bulletin.

As we sat down with Scott Gatze at P.L. Fry & Son Funeral Home in Manteca for the obligatory interview, one of the first things he asked was, “What was the name of Grandma Risso’s father?” I looked quizzingly at my husband next to me. He looked back at me with a blank look, which kind of puzzled me. I expected him to know that bit of information.

As it turned out, he didn’t.

The query wasn’t an idle question. Scott had a piece of paper in front of him with a set of questions and blank lines that needed to be filled out.

The question-and-answer procedure roused my curiosity. I asked Scott why this information and others that were in the piece of paper in front of him were necessary. He said they were things that they needed to have to forward to the State of California. It then occurred to me that what I asked was a duh question. Of course, Big Brother has to know when someone has passed away. I realized Social Security has to have that information. The Census Bureau has to have that for the gathering of statistics.

The other duh realization that immediately came to mind: identify theft. If an individual has been declared legally deceased, someone with the intent of stealing another’s identity by way of a Social Security number or birth date and what have you, would not be able to get away with it scot free.

If we didn’t have that information, Scott understandingly said, he could leave that out. But Grandma had one surviving daughter who will know for sure, my husband and I thought. Unfortunately, Aunt Dolores did not know either. We later found a photograph taken of the headstone of Grandma’s grave. Unfortunately, it was an old grainy snapshot and part of his last name was hidden by a flower vase placed in front of it. As luck would have it, we found some of Grandma’s other old photographs and papers and, voila! There was her birth certificate — it looked like a copy of the original — when she was baptized in Bedford, Massachusetts!

Our other eye-opener was the trip to the Catholic cemetery in Colma. At that time, Grandpa Risso was not sure if Grandma should be buried there or here in the area where it would be easier for the family to visit her grave site. But he wanted to find out the details that would be involved should he choose to have Colma as Grandma’s final resting place.

That trip was a learning experience. Grandpa and his family paid $100 for each of the four premium burial spaces. And that included opening and closing. That’s another lesson we learned. It takes money, and not just loose change, to open a crypt and have it closed. When the burial takes place on a weekend and not on a regular weekday that costs even more. I found that out when my mom passed away. The family scheduled a weekend burial at the Chapel of the Chimes Mausoleum on Mission Boulevard in Hayward. We were told we had to pay extra for that because the cemetery workers, who happened to belong to a union, had to be paid overtime.

At any rate, we found out in Colma that if the family decided to sell a mausoleum space that Grandpa’s family purchased in the 1960s, the Catholic cemetery would pay us $4,000 and a few dollars. My husband then asked what the cemetery would sell the space for. They were quite honest about it. They would ask for more than $13,000 because that was the going rate.

Of course, anyone can choose to sell the burial space in the open market, we also found out.

It is expensive to live, what with all the bills you have to contend with. But as the above also shows, it’s just as expensive to die.

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