Posted inEditor's Pick

Losing the Plot

Sari Botton | Longreads | December 19, 2018 | 5,667 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Nonfiction, Story

Losing the Plot

Not planning for death is killing me.
Illustration by Giselle Potter

Sari Botton | Longreads | December 2018 | 23 minutes (5,667 words)

When I graduate from college in May of 1987, I receive a call from the Sephardic Brotherhood, an organization of which my father is a lifelong member. After congratulating me on this milestone, the man on the phone suggests I begin planning for another bigger one down the road: Would I like to be buried in their section of a Jewish cemetery in New Jersey? If I sign up now, I can lock into their special rate of just $90 per year.

I’m only 22 at the time, but I’ve just put myself through four years of college by working and scrimping and saving and worrying, and damn if I don’t recognize a bargain when I hear it — not to mention an opportunity to gain a sense of control over something. I mail off a check and then go about the business of hunting for my first real job in journalism; beginning my adult life while responsibly covering my bases for the end of it.


Two years later I marry for the first time, and the Sephardic Brotherhood calls again. Would I like to have my husband — he’s 25 — buried beside me?

“Hang on,” I say to the man on the other end. “Honey?? Do you want to be buried with me in the Sephardic part of a Jewish cemetery in New Jersey? It’s $90 a year.”

“I don’t know,” my husband shouts from another room in our small apartment. “Can we think about it?”

“I’ll get back to you,” I tell the man.

That weekend, at dinner with my in-laws, we inform them of the wonderful opportunity before us. “What?!” my mother-in-law shrieks. “But we’re already paying for plots for you — and your children — with the Shpitzernitzer* Society!”

(*In America from the late 19th to the early 20th Century, European Jewish immigrants formed hundreds of groups like the Shpitzernitzer Society and the Sephardic Brotherhood. Originally these societies served multiple purposes — helping members find jobs, learn English, and navigate immigration issues and assorted other legal matters. Many also became discount burial plot brokers.)

It’s news to us that our corpses and those of our theoretical future children are already spoken for, but we aren’t about to argue over it. On Monday I call the Brotherhood and cancel my burial plan. They issue a full refund.


My first husband is a traveling salesman and I live in constant fear he’ll die in a plane crash. It’s an anxiety exacerbated by my mother’s habit of phoning every single time she’s about to board a flight and reciting the same litany of worst-case information: her bank account numbers, who to call to cash out her life insurance policy, which jewelry I can expect to find in her safety deposit box.

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