I survived myself; my death and burial were locked up in my chest. I looked around me tranquil and contentedly, like a quite ghost with a clean conscience sitting inside the bars of a snug family vault.
Now then, thought I, unconsciously rolling up the sleeves of my frock, here goes for a cool collected dive at death and destruction, and the devil fetch the hindmost.
Chapter 49, The Hyena
I’m conducting a trial run for my death–“trial” being the operative word there. Please understand that I am still optimistically penciling my death in for some time around 2061 (may the fates forgive my arrogance for having a working number—I completely understand this is not under my control and could occur any time between now and then). I am not ill, but I am bedridden and this is a good dry run.
Insomnia sometimes visits just as (to quote Fitzgerald’s translation of Homer) “young Dawn with fingertips of rose” begins to stretch her limbs. I watch as morning light edges its way along the window ledge and inevitably I find myself checking in:
“Will this be a fine place to die?”
Yes, I think so, though I will need to repaint the ceiling and maybe go with a slightly different tint of green for the walls. That’s usually about as far as I think it through. This 48 hours of bedrest has given time to consider what crucial changes need to be made.
Speaking of death, I did have a chance to discuss death with my mother yesterday. It has often bothered me that I have no idea what her plans are. I can’t say it bothered me too much because I always assumed she has passed that information to my older sister, her favorite, her confidant and counsel.
But it turns out she hasn’t gotten around to making those plans yet. Kudos. I get the first scoop on Mom’s plans for her body after death. It’s an odd triumph that only will matter in making me more relevant to my sister at the end. I can put in my two cents and it will look as if my mother loved me too. As if I have meaningful conversations with my mom. Our nuclear family is built on the facade of actual conversations.
“Will you donate your body to science like Grandpa?” Her father donated his body to the medical school. It comes with a cremation. Not an urn. Just a cremation. We placed his ashes in an empty —do I need to point that out?– Maxwell Brothers Coffee can, per his request. His sister Rose had died some years earlier and had remained on top of the icebox in the kitchen awaiting him, in her own coffee can. Of the eight siblings, these two had always been close.
“No, I don’t want my body donated.” She says flatly. I’m not really surprised. She cares more about her physical appearance than she would ever let on.
I decide not to ask about her previous request. At the dinner table years ago, when I had provoked her by becoming a vegetarian, she proclaimed that eating dead animals was a tribute, otherwise they would just rot.
“I’d want you to eat me when I die.” She declared as if we were such ninnys. I think my brother recorded that quote in his notebook of “Weird Things My Mom Has Said.”
I don’t ask her now if she still wants us to eat her (roasted or grilled?).
“But you do want the cremation—“
“And the ashes?”
“Ooooh—“ Here she gets a little dreamy, a very rare quality in my Germanic mother. She tilts her head “Scattered across Big Bend – or maybe some in the Jonesville cemetery.” That’s where her own mother lies, while her father and his sister have retired in their coffee cans to the base of an apple tree on the old farm.
She loved her mother, just as she loves my older sister. They are iron women and there is something so private in their connection to one another. It’s a club in which I do not have a membership. Somehow, long ago, and repeatedly, I broke the rules. Not that I would have ever belonged in their club.
“Well, cool.” I say “We can make it a road trip—spreading grandma’s ashes!”
“No—grandma is in the Jonesville cemetery.”
“I meant you. You’re my chidren’s grandma. We’ll spread your ashes.”
“Oh.” She is not amused. She has been calling herself “Grandma” in front of my kids for over a decade, but I guess I transitioned too quickly.
The Iron Lady is difficult to amuse. Difficult to engage. And now the moment has passed.
“It makes us happy,” I venture, looking back down at the newspaper spread before me (a prop needed to cover awkward moments in the family conversation) “to talk about death. They say it makes us more appreciative. It makes us happier than trying to shut it out.”
She does not answer me. The conversation has ended.