Last night I called Pure Luck and said, "When I die, if I die first, promise me you won't leave until they've shoveled me in."
That might be a strange conversation starter for some people, but we've talked a lot about dying and what sort of arrangements people would prefer. I'd rather talk about it now then wait and never get around to it. My parents spoke secretly to one another just before my mother died, although I know she had tried to get my dad to talk about it sooner, and I was never entirely sure she went along with the plans he made in the end, for the end. He went along with her desire to be cremated, but his choice for where they would be interred–well, let's just say she came to me in a dream and told me that was not what she expected.
It was an odd and vivid dream, and it came not long after my father died. It took place in my parents' house, and my mother met me at the foot of the stairs to show me a catalog of headstones. She showed me something in a sort of rose-colored marble, with a lamb etched into the stone. I can't imagine that, living, this sort of thing would have been her taste. She was cremated because she thought caskets and coffins were wasteful! She also didn't like the thought of people looking at her, laid out, and as I said before, my father agreed to all that, both her frugality and her desire for privacy. In the dream, I said, "No, Mom, you and dad are both going to the Columbarium at the University of Wahoos."
And she looked at me, puzzled. "That's not what we agreed to do," she said.
Maybe these things don't really matter. What difference does it make, really? We interred them at the UWahoo Columbarium for Super Special Alumni instead of in the plots in the cemetery in Jane Austen's Village that my Uncle Haller and Aunt Mabel didn't use, since they had moved away. Either way, their bodies are gone, and I'm nowhere near either place.
That interment on a winter day in December of 1997, when my mother's urn left its interim location to be taken with my father's to a vault, ended a process of more than four years. We stood with family members next to the wall of vaults. My children were so young! I stayed the night before at a Residence Inn, where I got complaints about the noise they made running from one room to the other. Exhausted from travel, a flight and a long car ride, I felt relieved that they were having fun and wearing themselves out playing. The next morning at breakfast I looked around and wondered if the complainer would see what charming children they were, really, and feel guilty.
I think I thought that. I don't really know. The return to the town where #1 Son was born, to a place I lived as a newlywed with The Father of My Children, the drive in past the mall and the grocery store and the shopping center of that completely separate time in my life ten years and more earlier upset my equilibrium.
The things we remember are funny. We used to write "Krogering" in the checkbook when we went to the grocery store, because at Christmas a musical advertisement encouraged us, "Let's go Kroger-ing!"
We used to write checks at the grocery store, twenty-two years ago, before debit cards and cash back and PIN numbers.
And while there are some things we don't necessarily grieve, they mark for us the passing of time.
My parents died when I was still in my 30s, young but not outrageously so for losing parents. I hope my children have more time with me.
Yesterday I celebrated the life of a woman whose son-in-law had known her for 56 years, whose daughter at 74 had to say goodbye to Mother.
It's not right to rush that.
On the phone yesterday, I said, "They make you leave too quickly. They don't dig the graves anymore. They want you to go so they can bring in the backhoe."
Pure Luck said, "I just want you to put me in a burlap sack and drop me in the ground."
(I've heard variations on this before.)
I answered, "There would still be a backhoe. And I don't want to be rushed away. I want to see it through. Will you promise to do that for me if I promise to do it for you?"
"Sure," he said. "Although I've been considering donating my body to science."