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.

http _fc00.deviantart.net_images3_i_2004_122_1_e_Death

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The Last Known Hurdle

The other day I went to a Ray LaMontagne concert and I had a wonderful time, but I also shed a few tears. This folk rock musician has a smoky voice that moves me to my very core, but that’s not why I got emotional. This event was a very significant hurdle in my grieving process.

Back in March I e-mailed Chuck and I said, “Ray LaMontagne is coming to the Florida Theater in July! I LOVE his music!” He responded, “Buy the tickets. I’ll give you the cash in two weeks.” Yay! I was so excited! I loved going to concerts with Chuck. He’d let the music wash over him. With every new positive experience he’d always act like he couldn’t quite believe his luck, almost like a very shy child on Christmas morning, so it was a delight to do things with him. He would also hold my hand throughout and rub my back if he saw me shifting uncomfortably in my chair.

But ten days after that e-mail, Chuck was dead. After the initial shock of that wore off, after I was able to pick myself up off the floor and could lift my head up and start thinking about the practical as well as the emotional impact of this devastating event, I remembered those damned concert tickets.

Now that Chuck was gone, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got kicked out of my apartment because I couldn’t keep up with the expenses without him. (I actually made it until June. I’m rather impressed with myself.) Needless to say, the last thing on earth I needed was 100 dollar’s worth of concert tickets at a time like this. I really should have sold them. God knows I’ve been forced to sell everything else I could think of. (I still have a ton of Orthodontic Dental Lab textbooks and equipment up for grabs if anyone’s interested.)

But I just couldn’t sell those tickets. They represented the last known thing that Chuck and I would have done together, and I just… I couldn’t let them go. Okay, so I’d have to figure out a way to absorb the expense. I had many a lean grocery week, believe you me.

Next challenge was finding someone to go with. Fortunately my old friend Steve came through for me, as he has done countless times in the past. It’s kind of sad that I had to resort to borrowing someone’s husband in order to go to a concert, but there you have it.

The night of the concert I picked out an outfit that was Chuck’s favorite. I whispered, “God, I wish you were here,” and I burst into tears. I managed to get a grip before Steve picked me up, but when I got in his car I looked over at him and kind of felt sorry for the emotional roller coaster I was probably going to put him through that night. But Steve’s an ER nurse. He is intimate with death and dying. He’s not afraid to talk about it. And we did, quite a bit. He was the perfect friend to take on this particular ride.

So off we went. He took me to dinner at a restaurant that I know Chuck would have loved, and then we went to the concert. And the whole time I imagined Chuck’s hand in mine. (Steve’s a great friend, but not the kind you hold hands with.) And when I sang along with some of my favorite songs, I looked upward. A few times I got tears in my eyes. He was there. (I wish he could have rubbed my back, though. It was killing me.)

So, yeah. Now I’m looking at a future devoid of plans. A blank, Chuck-less slate looms before me. That concert was the last known hurdle that I had to cross in this grieving process. Oh, there will be plenty of others, I’m sure, but none that I can anticipate and plan for and try to mitigate.

So I am sailing my ship into uncharted waters now. All alone. Here there be dragons. But there will probably be some spectacular sunrises and sunsets, too. We shall see.

This one’s for you, my love.

(For those of you who get this blog via e-mail, the video I attached to it can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LWpw3CMCEg )

The Ultimate Interview

I will never know what my mother’s favorite color was. I’ll never know where she was when Kennedy was assassinated, or during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I’ll never know if she ever considered being a model. She certainly had the looks for it. Did she know anyone affected by the 1944 big top fire that happened near her home? I will never know these things because she died when I was 26 and it never occurred to me to ask those types of questions. I also can’t remember her voice, other than one particularly bad note she used to hit when singing one particular song. (She was beautiful, but she couldn’t carry a tune.)

When someone you love is dying, you’ve obviously got a lot on your mind. But if it’s your first major loss in particular, it’s quite possible that you don’t fully comprehend, or won’t allow yourself to completely accept, the fact that this is one change that’s going to be permanent. An enormous amount of history dies every time a person does.

If I had t to do over again, I’d ask questions, and lots of them. Think of it as a final interview. I’d even record it, so I’d have her voice as well. Here are some of the questions I would have asked my mother if given the chance.

  • What was your dream for your life?
  • How many times were you in love?
  • What is your favorite color?
  • Tell me where you were and what you were doing and thinking during various major historical events in your life. (VE Day, VJ Day, Kennedy Assassination, Martin Luther King’s Assassination, etc.)
  • What was the best day of your life aside from the birth of children?
  • What was the worst day of your life?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What were your dreams for my life?
  • If you had all the money in the world, what would you buy?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What is the best trip you’ve ever taken?
  • What was your biggest achievement?
  • What was your biggest disappointment?
  • Describe a perfect day.
  • What would you change about your life?
  • If you could give me one piece of advice, what would it be?
  • What is the most important lesson you’ve ever learned?
  • What is your favorite joke?
  • What is the most fun you’ve ever had?
  • Who is the best friend you’ve ever had?
  • Tell me something about yourself that would surprise me.
  • Tell me about your first kiss.
  • Is there anything you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t said?
  • What do you believe will happen when you die?
  • Are you proud of me?
  • Was there anything you always wanted to learn but never got around to learning?
  • Do you know how much you are loved?
  • What would you like people to say about you after you’re gone?

Some of these questions will be harder to ask than others. But if you don’t ask them, you will never have the answers. And believe me, there’s nothing worse than that.

Ma at 15

My beautiful mother at age 15.