'Til Death Do Us Part by Sharon O'Donnell
In the past month, I've been to three funerals -- all parents of my friends. I guess this is the age when this starts to happen, but it is rude awakening. Death and funerals are certainly sad events, but there is a certain side of death that can be mildly amusing when looked at from a certain perspective.
When my husband Kevin and I were engaged, I realized that although he wasn’t quick to make decisions on purchases, other family members of his were more impetuous. A few months after Kevin’s father died in 1986, we were eating dinner at his sister and brother-in-law’s house when the topic of the cost of cemetery plots came up. His sister informed us that she had bought extra plots at the time of Kevin’s father’s death because they had gotten a good deal. “We went ahead and bought a plot for each of us,” his sister said. “Five of ‘em.” I looked around and suddenly realized I was one of five people in the room. Whoa, what a second. Did she buy me a plot, too? I wasn’t even married into the family yet. I’m all for southern hospitality, but this was a bit extreme. I should’ve spoken up right then, but I couldn’t open my mouth because the news was too shocking. I mean I like to feel accepted into the family and all, but I kind of preferred to discuss arrangements for the rehearsal dinner before we discussed the after-life. I hadn’t even said the “I do” part yet, and already they had me dead and buried.
“They had a sale,” she explained, shrugging, smiling at me, like it was a two for one buy on ground chuck roast at the grocery store. Eternity beside his family. I glanced at the engagement ring on my finger. It had never occurred to me to ask about burial arrangements before I’d said ‘yes’. I don’t think they mentioned that in my “How to Plan a Wedding” book.
Yes, we still have those plots; I guess looking back on it, buying them was a good decision. I still plan to be buried because I like the thought of my sons and grandkids coming to my grave to perhaps feel a connection to me that they wouldn’t feel anywhere else. And of course, they can put flowers beside my tombstone on Mother’s Day and my birthday (okay, guys?). Kevin, however, has decided to be cremated. I know many people prefer this these days, and it’s growing in popularity. But I’ve always had a bit of a problem with cremation because I dwell on the act of burning, and it’s hard for me to fathom. When he told me of his cremation decision, I reminded him that when I give him a compliment like, “That sweater looks good on you,”, his usual droll reply is, “Bury me in it.” If he really wanted to be cremated, then why would he repeatedly say that? “That’s just a phrase,” he explained. “It doesn’t mean I really want to be buried.” I told him that was only confusing the issue.
Others are okay with cremation, and that’s fine. I’d just really rather it not be my husband. I’d sort of always thought we’d be buried side by side like my grandparents who were married for 65 years. My own parents, married now for 62 years, have already met with the funeral home and planned their own funerals and burials. I remember the day several years ago when the two of them came home from the cemetery after making their ‘arrangements’. “The music on that organ over there was a little bit too loud,” Mama said, “so you might want to tell the organist to play softer at my funeral.”
I tilted my head sideways and looked at my mother, pondering her bizarre comment. “Did you really just say that?” I asked. I know it makes sense to plan ahead, but her matter-of-fact attitude – like she was reminding me to ask for extra cheese on a pizza -- really threw me for a loop. When the conversation disintegrated into talking about the interior linings of caskets, I had to leave the room. It’s okay to plan, but let’s not debate the fabric choices over lunch.
One of the problems with having Kevin be cremated is that if he goes before I do, I’d have to keep up with the dang urn of ashes. What if something happened to it? My good friend’s father was cremated, and her family kept the urn in a closet until they decided what to do with the ashes. That wouldn’t work at my house – I’m known for losing things, and I don’t want the pressure of having to keep up with someone’s remains. Instead of “Guys, have you seen my glasses?”, it’d be “Guys, have you seen Dad’s ashes?” “They were here last week, I swear!” That’s just too much responsibility for me.