A few weeks ago my parents bought their burial plots.

I’d been to the cemetery that they chose exactly once before they chose it. We were on our way home from the local ice cream shop some summer day a year ago (or maybe two) when my mother mentioned that she’d like to stop by the cemetery, since she’d always thought it was kind of nice looking from the road and (I don’t remember the timing exactly but I think) one of my grandfathers had recently died, which is the sort of thing that makes you think more about your own mortality, especially if you’re in your sixties.

I was later told by friends that this was a strange thing to do with one’s parents but also a very Koster way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The closest thing the Kosters have to a family cemetery is two and half hours north, where my father’s father is buried, along with my grandmother’s parents and a smattering of great aunts and uncles and cousins, separated by several miles of dusty country road from the cemetery where the rest of the Kosters and Tacomas have slowly turned to dirt for decades.

My mother’s ancestors are interred closer to home, in the city’s largest (but not quite oldest) cemetery, which holds about as many dead as currently live in the city limits. Her other dead relatives are buried in Zeeland, I think? (They say that when I’m older I’ll care about family history enough to check, but I’ve met enough amateur genealogists in my professional life to know I’d rather die ignorant than become one of them.)

Maybe cemetery shopping is like church shopping. Does the rest of the family go there? Have they gone there for years? Is the location convenient? How’s the atmosphere? Do we really think that we can spend all of eternity in a place that allows fake Easter lilies?

Is it too far away from the kids, like the cemeteries in Missaukee are? Are there too few trees, like there are in Pilgrim Home? I’ve always been horrible at church shopping, but I imagine I’d been okay with cemetery shopping.

Not that I’ll ever find out, because a few weeks ago my parents bought my burial plot, too.

Shortly after they did, I stopped by that cemetery on my way home from work. Suspiciously straight lines of douglas firs shade its front half, while the middle is dominated by the largest, three-trunked oak tree I’ve ever seen. Most of the names on the headstones are Dutch, interspersed with the occasional Cisneros or Gutierrez. The oldest recorded burial took place in 1832, a mother and newborn child. The most recent happened in June.

“You know where the shed is?” my dad said when I called him to ask where ours were. “It’s to the right of the shed.”

I did know where the shed was; I’d parked my car next to it.

“Do you see the Vanderploeg?” my mom put in, voice tinny over speakerphone. “Next to the Vanderploeg.”

I saw the Vanderploeg. And the little metal circle driven in the ground next to it, naming the plots it corned 56, 57, 58, and 59.

“If that’s not exact, it’s close,” my dad said.

I told him it was close enough.

“I have the plot numbers in an email somewhere,” my mom said. “By the way I have to ask, did you spill something in the bottom of the oven last time you were at the cottage?”

I had not.

If you think about it all, “Do you want to be buried with me?” feels like primarily a romantic question. American culture dictates that a new family unit formed by marriage is more important than the one formed by birth or adoption. Take a walk in your local cemetery and you’ll see headstones labeled mother, father, wife, husband. Grave markers that say daughter and son tend to be reserved for the young, or the lifelong unwed.

When my parents asked my siblings and I if we wanted to be buried next to them, it was more a practical question than a sentimental one. And it was a joke when I turned to my sister and asked, “I dunno, do you wanna share a spinsters’ grave with me?”, but it wasn’t one when we decided that yeah, we would.

It was sentimental (and kind of a joke) when I drove out to the cemetery where I’ll be buried and spent ten minutes lying on my back, staring up at the sky, trying not to feel too self-conscious to imagine staring up at that sky forever. (The sentimentality is obvious; the joke is that both my sister and I need to be cremated to fit into a single plot, so my corpse won’t have eyes to stare with.) Mostly it was damp. But there were birds singing and round fungus shelves hung from the underside of a branch overhead.

The place where I’ll be buried is not historically significant nor sinister enough to be haunted. It’s across the street from an elementary school, and its paved paths feel slightly too narrow for 21st-century cars. It’s important only because death is and it’s where we put some dead people. It’s where we’ll put my parents. It’s where we’ll put me.

I don’t know who that will be important to. Maybe no one. Certainly no one eventually. But my living self likes knowing that my dead one will have trees.


  1. Laura Sheppard

    This is lovely, Annaka, thank you.

    • Annaka Koster

      Thanks, Laura–I love a good cemetery, so I’m glad you enjoyed this one too!


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