We have written in this space many times about the importance of pre-planning your own deathcare.
Our piece on Humphrey Bogart’s death and cremation — which was not carried out in exactly the way he would have wanted — sparked reader attention. If someone who has the means and fame of a Bogart does not set forth his wishes through pre-planning instruments and is thereby denied what he would have picked, it can happen to anyone.
Some might argue that all this is much about nothing — you are gone, what difference does it make? In fact, it may make no difference whatever to some, but that is not what we generally see in our experience — deathcare is highly individual experience, and from our viewpoint, it is very important to be sensitive to the wishes that are expressed. It is important to honor such individual choices.
Of course, there are situations where for reasons that are completely antithetical to the preferences of the deceased, final disposition is carried out in accord with decision makers present at the time.
Such was the case 35 years ago this week when one of America’s greatest playwrights, Tennessee Williams was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Mo.
There is absolutely little to complain about when it comes to the cemetery. Hard by the Mississippi river, it is a local catholic institution — founded in 1854 (about the same time as our Martin Oaks Cemetery in Lewisville, Texas was established), it is a perpetual care cemetery which contains some of the most tasteful final memorials imaginable.
The problem existent in the Tennessee Williams case is that he simply didn’t want to be interred there. Williams, who referred to death as “the sudden subway,” spent some time in St. Louis in his youth — due to circumstances surrounding that time, he developed an aversion to the area. This is not a guess: during his lifetime, Williams was quite clear about his wishes. Not only did he state his plans for final disposition in a notarized letter, he directly spoke about it in a filmed documentary. When the sudden subway came to transport Williams, Missouri was not his chosen destination – he wanted to be buried at sea.
We grew up close to the St. Louis area and do not share his aversion: but the point is, the feelings of the deceased are what counts here. Dakin Williams, Tennessee’s brother and the man in charge of these proceedings, had different ideas.
According to biographer John Lahr, whose 2014 book about Tennessee is considered to be the most complete work of its kind, Dakin (who has now also passed away) was quite outspoken regarding these issues. Lahr quotes Dakin as saying that he (Dakin) was quite certain that Tennessee would not approve of the choice of Calvary Cemetery — but, as only survivor, Dakin decided to take matters into his own hands.
Dakin’s reasoning, at least that which he discussed, was based on the availability of the cemetery to those who might want, at some future time, to come to pay respects to the man Dakin termed to be “the greatest talent since Shakespeare.”
So it came to pass that, following a service at the beautiful St Louis Cathedral, Tennessee Williams was buried in a city he called “St. Pollution.”
There are those who have argued that Dakin’s real motive had to do with his much mixed feelings about his brother, but nonetheless, it was his, not his brothers, wishes which prevailed.
If the manner of your final disposition matters to you, our suggestion is that you pre-plan carefully.
We would like to close with a Tennessee Williams quote about life that we find moving: “What implements have we but words, images, colors, scratches upon the caves of our solitude?”
The words of Tennessee Williams will always be a part of our ever changing culture. RIP Tennessee Williams.