I am now at the age where I attend more funerals than weddings; a time more defined by loss than achievement. And while the years have crept slowly they seem to have passed overnight. One moment I was running barefoot for miles along the beach and now? Climbing a simple flight of stairs is agony for my knees.
A friend of mine recently passed away. As I entered the church for her visitation, she was lying in an open casket at the far end of the room. Her face was translucently whiter than it had ever been in real life and her lips were pressed together as if just about to smile. They had dressed her in a blue suit and wrapped rosary beads delicately around her hands. She seemed so lifelike that I stared at her chest thinking any moment she might possibly take a breath. The longer that I looked, though, the more it bothered me. I did not want to remember her like this.
As my friends and I waited to speak with her family, I asked them what their own plans were for their services someday. What surprised me was that all of them had plans. One gave a detailed description of every song and Bible verse that would be played and read at her service. Another said she wanted a simple funeral but no cremation. The last not only described her memorial but also asked if I would sing her favorite hymn when the time came!
I excused myself and returned again to my friend’s body. Instinctively, I reached into the casket and took hold of her hand. It was something that I had often done when she was alive. We often squeezed hands when greeting one another. This time, however, her hand was cold, so cold, that even when I let it go, my own remained distinctly chilled for several minutes afterwards.
As I drove away from the church, I realized this: I want no memorial, no funeral, or even casket. Do not stitch my lips shut or lay me stiffly like a mannequin. Cremate me and scatter me to the wayward wind. Then, I will become a part of the good earth again and perhaps even bloom in someone’s garden. Remember me with a flush of color in my face, a big smile on my lips and a hand warm to the touch.
Very touching Helen.
Nice piece, I know what you mean. No caskets for me either. A memorial service where people sing songs and hold hands is more my style. Cremation has its merits. I want to be scattered into gardens. Perhaps have friends take bits of me home. I’ve been hearing a lot about people who are passing on lately. Seems to be the year for it!
Wishing you well, and many good years of dancing in the wind before giving yourself to it, Tasha
The Buddha is supposed to have taught:
“When you look into a flower, the universe smiles back.
A very touching and thought-provoking article. I will be cremated, too, like my wife. But for a different reason. I can’t bear to see those very expensive cemetery plots for the dead when there are so many homeless living among us.
We were just talking about this topic this week–at a funeral–how we used to read the wedding and birth announcements, and not we’re reading the obituaries. My husband and I haven’t made those final plans because we can’t exactly make decisions, so whoever is left gets to (has to) make the call.
I have a friend who recently retired from teaching and is hand making eco-friendly caskets. I also saw a lovely documentary on the Alabama story teller Kathryn Tucker Windham, “Kathryn: The Story of a Teller.” She went casket shopping and was so dismayed by the choices she has her friend make hers and she kept it in her garage and used in for storage until it was needed. Lots to think about, but people have such varying wishes.