Contemplating my Death

Having recently gotten married, and having comingled our assets and combined our bank accounts as one does, it was time to update our wills. In my case, this was long overdue. My old will was all about assets I no longer have and people who are no longer in my life.

Writing a will is the responsible thing to do. It takes a great deal of pressure off the loved ones you leave behind, and it helps to ensure that your wishes are carried out. No sense in causing a familial World War III when you don’t have to. You’d be amazed at how petty some people can be while picking over your leftovers.

But contemplating one’s own death is no fun. Looking the grim reaper square in the eye and acknowledging his or her inevitable visit is a bit unsettling. I greatly prefer pretending that I’ll live forever. (But then, that scenario doesn’t really sound very pleasant, either, given how often I forget to floss.)

It’s particularly squick-making to have to imagine the whole death process. Do I want to have my life artificially prolonged? No thank you. Does that include withholding nutrition? Images of me wasting away as I circle the drain. Ugh. Yeah. Withhold nutrition unless I ask for it. But that’s a really hard thing to say to future me.

And what to do with the body I’m vacating? Good lord, but there are so many options these days. It’s like shopping for shoes. Except you’re disposing of the shoes. In a really upsetting way. And you’re trying not to freak out your relatives in the process.

There’s a lot to think about while making that choice. I mean, I’ll be beyond caring. But I’ve kind of grown attached to this body. I want it treated with respect. But I also don’t want it to take up space, or get pumped full of completely unnecessary and toxic formaldehyde, or cause undue expense.

I always thought I’d go with cremation, but then I learned what a huge carbon footprint that process places on the planet. So now I’ve decided on aquamation. That’s a new process. Your soft bits get dissolved, and only your bones remain, which are reduced to “ashes”. From an environmental standpoint it’s a much gentler exit from this planet. As this website explains, “Unlike cremation, there are no emissions with  aquamation. It uses about 1/8th the energy. If cremation were a diesel truck, aquamation is a Prius.” If I have to be a vehicle, I suppose I want to be a Prius. (How very Seattle of me.)

But can you imagine the details and descriptions I had to wade through to arrive at that choice? I mean… ugh. Nothing quite like picturing yourself getting disposed of like meat that is past its expiration date.

The next step is writing a personal letter explaining who I’d like to receive which of my tchotchkes. I’m struggling with this. How do you adequately convey how much someone has meant to you with a thing? It just doesn’t quite cut it.

But in the end, that’s all that will be left of me, save the memories. And that makes me want to create as many of those as I possibly can. So now that I’ve mapped out my journey into Death Land (and dragged you along for the ride), it’s time to get on with the business of living.

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The Black Sheep in the Family

Every family has one. A relative who refuses to play by the rules. Someone who causes unbelievable heartache, unspeakable scandal, and enormous amounts of frustration. Someone who generates really, really interesting family stories. In my family that was Uncle Dave, my mother’s little brother.

When my mom was young, she was bedridden with whooping cough, and she looked out the window to see her little brother picking up her kittens by the tail, one by one, and dipping them in a can of green paint. When she got better she got back at him by shaving the tail hair off his favorite pony.

A story Uncle Dave always liked to tell about himself was the time he had a pet skunk with no scent glands, and it got loose. A few days later he was walking in the woods behind his house and there’s the skunk. It came running toward him, and he was really happy. Then it occurred to him that it might not be his skunk. So he ran away, and never saw the skunk again. That always struck me as kind of selfish. He left a skunk with no defenses and no knowledge of how to fend for itself alone in the wilderness. But selfishness was a recurring theme in Uncle Dave’s life.

I tell you those two stories to illustrate that he was a hell raiser even before he discovered alcohol. Alcohol only made him that much worse. I never knew him to be sober a day of my life. To me, he was the man who delighted in humiliating me throughout my childhood. During my awkward adolescence, he delighted in pointing out my agonizingly slow growing chest in front of large groups of people. He thought my embarrassment was very funny.

Throughout the years he got into several traffic accidents, and as is the case with alcoholics, he’d walk away unscathed. One time he got pissed off at a drinking buddy and shot out all 4 tires in his car. How he managed to stay out of jail was beyond me.

Uncle Dave actually seemed to have amazing luck. Somehow he managed to navigate through his alcoholic haze and be a success in business. And one time he was sitting in his recliner watching TV when a bolt of lightning came down the hall behind him, bounced off the mirror, crossed in front of him, took out the TV, and exploded all the bottles in his wet bar, but missed him entirely. You’d think that would be enough to get him to reevaluate his life, but no. Me, I’d have taken that as a sign.

For my oldest sister’s wedding, it’s a good thing that we confirmed the church the day before, because he had called to cancel the reservation several days prior. We’d have shown up to a locked church with no preacher. Ha, ha, ha, right? At my other sister’s wedding reception, he called my 3 year old niece over to him, and then took his cigarette and popped all her balloons. Of course she howled. I had to leave the room to keep from lunging at his throat.

The final straw for me, though, was when I was home from college and I had a fellow student with me. She was from Holland. The phone rings and it’s a man with a funny accent, and he’s asks to speak to his daughter. I assumed it was my friend’s father so I called her to the phone. She instantly went into a panic because it was the middle of the night in the Netherlands, and the only reason they would call at that hour was if it was an emergency. She gets on the phone, and gets this strange look on her face. She didn’t know this person. It was my uncle, using a fake accent. My friend was really shaken by this. Later he came by to try to meet her, three sheets to the wind as per usual, and I kicked him out of the house.  Believe me when I say he did not go quietly.

I only saw him one more time, and that was at my mother’s funeral, 7 years later. He tried to comfort me, but as far as I was concerned, it was too little, too late.

Fast forward 20 years, and imagine my mixed emotions when I heard he had blown his brains out in his garage. He was upset because at age 80 they had finally declared him to be unfit to drive. The only thing he left for his long-suffering wife was a garage that looked like an abattoir, and a note that included his name, the cost of a cremation, and the company who could do it.

I didn’t feel sad. He never allowed himself to be a part of my life in any positive way. I sure could have used a positive male role model but he was definitely not one of those. What I felt, instead, was anger. Anger at all the pain and humiliation he caused everyone within his reach. Anger at the waste of a life. Anger that he chose to go out in a way that was as selfish and over the top as every single thing he had chosen to do his entire life.

uncle bob