I went to a funeral not too long ago. It was for an acquaintance, a woman who was a truly kind, sweet person. The line at the funeral home attested to her wonderful personality as it went out the door and down the steps of the funeral home. The condolence books were brimming with memories and signatures and there were enough flower arrangements to fill a medium-sized florist shop.
That funeral depressed me even more than I’m usually depressed after a funeral, not only because of the grieving family, but also because while standing in the receiving line, a self-centered thought kept running through my head: No way am I going to get a crowd like this when my number’s up!
I know a lot of people pre-plan their funerals and write out instructions, complete with the music they want played and the Bible readings they want read. Not me. I don’t want a funeral. I’d be lucky to get maybe twenty people at my funeral and while I won’t be there to count noses, the thought of being unpopular at my last showing, so to speak, seems like the final slap in the face after a lifetime of Charlie Brown-esque scenarios involving standing alone while everyone else got picked to be on a team—any team—during gym class, prom nights spent eating pizza with girlfriends instead of at the big dance, and a sorority rush week right out of Carrie.
I really wish things were different when we died. I wish our bodies evaporated at the moment of death like they do in Star Wars or melted like the Wicked Witch of the West’s after Dorothy threw water on her. Just thinking about the whole rigmarole of the aftermath of death exhausts me. It’s something I know I should be dealing with now so my kids don’t get stuck with the task, but there are so many other things I prefer to think about, such as if I should change the kitty litter today or tomorrow or where I can find Season Three of the original Hawaii 5-0.
My husband and I have batted the topic of death around on occasion. For a while, we considered donating our bodies to science, a noble and thrifty solution. We went so far as to get the forms from the nearest teaching hospital, filled them out, and stuck them with our wills but we’re both a bit leery about complete commitment to that route. It might be noble and thrifty, but it’s also kind of creepy. Mark was the first one to voice doubts.
“I’m not so sure I want to be cut up after I die,” he said one evening after a beer or three.
“What do you mean?”
“Donating our bodies to that medical school. I don’t want to do it.”
“How do we know they’d really use our bodies for teaching?”
“What else would they do with them?”
“That’s what worries me. It might be like something out of Soylent Green or that movie about medical students. You know the one. The one we never saw but sounded really gross.”
“I don’t know what that has to do with donating our bodies. Who knows? Medical science might have a gigantic breakthrough just by examining your brain.”
“Forget it,” Mark said. “They might also laugh at me.”
“You won’t be able to hear them,” I reminded him.
He shook his head firmly. “You’re just being cheap.”
He was right so I got him another beer and changed the subject.
We both agree we don’t want to be buried which leaves cremation. There’s an organization we heard about that picks up your body wherever you happen to die, cremates you, and ships the ashes back to your loved ones, all for one low low price. That seems ideal except for getting the ashes back. I don’t want my husband’s ashes. I don’t deal well with anything remotely icky and having my husband’s ashes stored in the basement or attic or wherever he winds up definitely falls under icky.
When he dies, assuming he dies before I do, I’m going to want to remember him in his prime, not wonder how they fit his six foot body into a mahogany box the size of a large jewelry box. And if I go first, I can picture him doing something like putting the box holding my ashes on my recliner and talking to me while he watches television and hauling me to Christmas dinners. I can’t do that to my kids.
I’d like to continue to put off dealing with the great hereafter for as long as possible, but I know that isn’t realistic. My number could be up any day, a fact that becomes truer with each passing birthday. I’ve promised myself that by this time next year, provided I’m still here, my funeral plans will be set in stone, only not really because there won’t be a funeral to plan. But what to do with what’s left of me will be taken care of. It’s on my long term to do list, right after ‘start an IRA’ and ‘transfer VHS tapes to DVDs’ because even though I won’t be there I want to be prepared with absolutely no ick factor whatsoever.