1. ,

Article Content

Note from the Editor: While driving to New Hampshire to pick up my daughter from summer camp, I was pondering what to write for an editorial and listening to National Public Radio (NPR). In between news and music, Scott Simon presented the following commentary. I realized that he succinctly captured much of what I was thinking about, so in lieu of an editorial written by me, I offer Mr Simon's comments in their entirety.


-Leslie H. Nicoll, PhD, MBA, RN, Editor-in-Chief


My wife and I used to tell ourselves that we're the kind of sophisticated urbanites who would never trek across the river to shop at some enormous, soulless warehouse store. Then we got our baby and decided that there's nothing especially sophisticated or urbane about paying premium price for diapers that will encase our child's charming derriere for just a few hours. You come for diapers, next you know you're walking out with a 10-gallon can of olive oil and a 20-pound tin of rice crackers.


So maybe we were prepared to be pleased rather than appalled to hear this week that Costco now sells caskets in two of its Chicago-area stores. Caskets, for all the funeral home speak of the hereafter, encase us for just a few relative hours, too. "We're just trying to offer value to our customers in everything," said Gina Bianche of Costco. Everything from cereal bars to new cars and now truly cradle to grave. Costco is offering six different models of Universal Casket Company steel caskets, including lilac and Neapolitan blue at about $800. Most funeral homes will charge at least twice that much for the casket alone. A shopper can walk into the store, looking for a couple of cases of Shiner Bock beer, see an aquarium-sized tub of chili-sprinkled pretzels and say, "That looks good," and see a casket near the walnut-slathered cheese balls and say, "Save that for later, too."


Several of the customers that Chicago newspapers interviewed said it was a bit eerie to see shiny steel caskets displayed amid the stacks of snow tires and pallets of chunky applesauce, rose-scented toilet tissue, mentholated shaving cream, and mild salsa. But in time, people may grow accustomed to the sight. And, if we do, it may soften and inform some of our squirminess about death. Right now most of us leave our loved ones to choose a casket or an urn. We've just died, they're feeling sad, and don't want to look cheap with this one last present they will buy us.


But choosing caskets that are adjacent to towering heaps of floral paper towels, kegs of mushroom pasta sauce, stacks of Scott Turow's latest, and sandbags of French-roast coffee beans might just remind us that death is as natural as hunger, happiness, or exhaustion. There comes a time, both physicians and philosophers remind us, when death is as natural as sleep. Maybe seeing an utterly commonplace sign of our common destiny in a shopping aisle will even move some people to ponder if their bodies might be put to better use when they're gone in scientific research or organ donation. The details of burial really are pretty mundane. The glory is in life.


This commentary originally aired on Saturday, August 21, 2004. Copyright NPR(R)2004. Any unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited. Reprinted with permission.