Death for Beginners: Guide to Planning for the Inevitable

Karen Jones. Death for Beginners: Your No-Nonsense, Money-Saving Guide to Planning for the Inevitable . Linden Publishing. Fresno, CA. 2010. 244 pages.

$13.46 from Amazon (click to order)

This is the one "how-to" book that no one wants to believe they'll need -- but if the past is any guide, it covers a topic that all of us will encounter eventually. Burial or cremation? Funeral or memorial service? Organ donation or body farm? The choices are numerous and without some guidance and advance planning, our loved ones may be consumed with anxiety about what to do, and in the rush to take care of myriad details they may end up spending far more on our demise than necessary.

In Death for Beginners, author Karen Jones takes we the living through all the options involved in exiting this mortal coil, presenting the costs, the pros and cons, and crucial "how to" information. And in doing so Jones accomplishes the seemingly impossible -- she has written a book about death that's actually fun to read. Her breezy, conversational style is peppered with humorous asides (in the section on organ donation she laments that fat cells can't yet be donated), and she gives readers frequent breaks from the morbid subject at hand by presenting strange facts and oddities, such as the brutally honest 2008 obituary for one Dolores Aguilar.

Topics covered include the many different ways to dispose of the body, choosing a funeral home, planning a memorial service, composing an obituary, writing a will and dealing with grief. Along the way Jones provides ample information for holding one's own against the funeral industry and addresses important questions we perhaps never knew we had. Is embalming necessary? Which is more "green": cremation or green burial? Can one take cremated remains on an airplane? Readers learn that Costco sells caskets (now starting at $949.99), that one person can save or enhance up to 60 lives through organ and tissue donation, and that cell phone addicts can order a wooden coffin in the shape of a Nokia phone that was hand-sculpted by the famous Ga coffin carpenters of Accra, Ghana. (No word on choice of ring tone.)

The book's appendices include worksheets that, if completed, will make it easy for loved ones to divine anyone's after-death predilections and provide a clear road map for them to follow. An accompanying Web site,, gives a trove of links and updates, as well as downloadable versions of the book's worksheets.

Paradoxically, reading Death for Beginners and applying its advice may enhance your remaining years, as you'll be secure in the knowledge that you and your loved ones are well prepared when you finally move from Beginner to Expert.