A Room Full of Corners

When my father passed away, I was just 18 years old. I may have been the “next of kin”, but I didn’t know jack about planning a funeral. Thankfully, my aunts and uncles took over that task. Dad was buried in a plain, wooden casket, wearing his standard of button-down shirt and blue jeans. I think in my whole life, I saw him once in a suit, and that was for my grandmother’s funeral. Burying him in a suit would have looked, well, odd.

Point being, I still didn’t know jack about planning a funeral. Until today.

We met at Podunk Funeral Home…myself, MLC Rosie, her brother, my mother, Mr. Recommendation, and close-family friend. Cousin Joe Dirt’s girlfriend showed up, for reasons unknown. She was widely ignored, but I couldn’t stop staring at her bad teeth.

Direct of Podunk Funeral Home takes us into the back room of the, uh, facility, and we sit around a large conference table. Surrounding us are various displays of funeral-type items.

I always wondered how things transpired when planning these things. Do families get to go to a big, warehouse-type place and peruse all the coffins to find one, or do they just go through a catalog? I don’t know how most funeral homes do it (not like I hang around them to find out), but this one had corners of caskets, all bolted to the wall. You could see their color, what they were made of, and what the handles looked like.

And even more to the point, how does one pick the perfect box to bury under six feet of dirt? Cost? Material? Color?

“Don’t pick the red one! With Bob’s coloring, he’ll look like an olive, just laying inside!”

“Ooohhh, that blue matches the color of  Sally’s eyes! Which, with the advances of mortuary science, are now sewn shut.”

I’d like to think that cost probably plays a bigger part of it. The prices started around $1200 for a plain wooden one, and the most expensive being $11K and built out of solid mahogany.  Holy shit! For a couple grand more, that thing should have had an engine and wheels. I may be in the wrong profession.

My grandmother passed in 1988. The cost of her funeral was around $8000. And that included everything, nothing was spared. Everyone who attended her funeral said she went out “in style”. Thankfully, my aunt had expressed her desire to forgo all the frill, and go the cremation route.

So, we sat around this conference table, surrounded by corners of caskets, various urns, remembrance books, fake flower arrangements, hideous pastel dresses and old man  suits, and a few grave markers. It was surreal, sitting there, planning a very somber and emotional event, but also conducting a business transaction.

Even with the cremation option, which is supposed to be cheaper than a traditional burial, it wasn’t too far from what was paid for my grandmother. Thankfully, my aunt had the foresight to purchase a small policy to cover these expenses. If there is anything I can impart onto anybody, it’s this…these policies are a godsend, and everyone should get one. Because when you are sitting at the table with a funeral director, planning the funeral of a loved one who just passed the day prior, the last thing you want on your mind is how you are going to pay for it all.

The planning took us a couple of hours, and not one ounce of drama. At the end, we decided on a nice send-off, without it being obscene. Simple, elegant, classy. My aunt in a nutshell. She would have hated too much fuss.

When I go, I want the cremation route. Just stuff me in a can of Kona coffee until we reach cool Caribbean waters, and then dump me at the nicest coral reef you can find. Logtar says no dice. He’ll just keep me by his computer, so that I may never miss out on Raid Night again.

A Ship Leaves the Harbor

A year ago, my Aunt fell ill. Over the course of the year that followed, it was rife with things that I have seen or heard patients/family members experience. With my aunt, my family got to experience those things firsthand. Repeated hospital visits, an attempt of caring for a family member at home, and failing miserably in the attempt. We got to experience the emotions that came with admitting the defeat of having to place a family member in a nursing home. The family squabbles that come from the guilt or the blame. It came full circle yesterday morning, when the nursing home called to tell me that my aunt had passed away.

Various emotions could have taken me then, but I easily slipped into what I call “Nurse Mode”. No feelings. Just a clear mind, a set jaw, and a goal of getting things in order. Because that is what I do at work. It is also how I deal with my own personal feelings that could cripple me. I am very good at it.

I made the calls, which was a difficult task. Calling Mr. Recommendation and telling him the news, so he can gently break it to my mother. Calling my MLC Rosie to gently tell her that her mother is gone. The torturous sound that she made, for which I have no words to really describe, can only be made by someone who has just found out that their parent has died…keeps ringing in my ears. Calling my own brothers, a few close family friends, and relaying the message in a manner that was probably no different than how I would call a family member of a patient who had just expired.

Professionalism at it’s finest.

Logtar is there. He’s very comforting and protective. God bless him., but I don’t have time for my own feelings. I have a family to take care of. My time will come later. For the time being, my grief is shelved. We collect Mom and Mr. Recommendation and head to the nursing home, where my cousins are there with my aunt, looking so small and frail and old in her bed. A wisp of the emotional powerhouse she was when she was younger. Tears are shed, hugs are shared, the imminent arrangements made. Family stays until the funeral home comes to collect her. Those family who remain: me, Mom, Mr. Recommendation, Logtar, and a close family friend, stay and pack up the half of a room that my aunt called home for the last year. We chuckle at how my aunt, a hoarder in the years leading up to going into a nursing home, apparently never stopped hoarding…as evidenced by the hundreds of packets of sugar, the 50 bottles of soap. We sober when we realize that she probably hoarded because she was terrified of being without.

In the last year, my aunt fought to stay relevant in the lives of our family. She was a strong, matriarchal figure in her younger years, and she struggled to maintain that with her opinions, solicited or not. She loved being kept in the loop, and pressed zealously for any information. I know that she had a hard time knowing that she was in a nursing home, while life seemingly moved on without her. Before she died, I was able to impart upon her a little secret. She got that delighted, smug look she got when she was the first to know something, before anyone else. I’m glad I could give her that one little thing. To make her feel something she probably hasn’t felt in a long, long time.

Now I am sitting here, trying to come out of “Nurse Mode” and slip quietly into “Grieving Family Member Mode”. It is difficult. I remember the unique things about my aunt…he quickness to laugh, her ability to insult you without you realizing it until long after, her delight and appreciation for the small things. An iced caramel latte, a pancake, a small souvenir brought back from a vacation, or a late night trip to the truck stop for some deep fried mushrooms with ranch dressing. For a huge part of my youth, my aunt played an integral role in my life, while my own parents dealt with their own personal demons. She laughed with me, she held me when I cried, and made me feel like I wasn’t alone and not all hope was lost. My gratitude and love I cannot express, so I won’t even try to.

There’s a popular poem, often read at funerals that speaks of someone passing as if they were a ship leaving a harbor. As family members, we stand on the shore and bid good-bye, saddened at the loss. But where the ship winds up, there’s others waiting, happy and welcoming. I hope that is true, because that would mean that she is having a blast right now. But I as write this, sadness finally overwhelms me. I am relieved in that she no longer suffers, for she was a very sick woman, but I am pained that she is gone forever.

I am going to miss her.