Monday, July 11, 2011

Death Rituals

Eventually, after a few more tears were shed, the whole family walked out into the garden to start dealing with the matter at hand. Phone calls to friends and family members were made. Discussion about our desire to donate dad's brain and how to do it were addressed. The funeral home was contacted and the nurses were thanked for all of their hard work.

I flipped my Dark Humor setting to On. Tired of crying, I decided to try a different tactic.

My brother asked if we knew what kind of a funeral we wanted for dad and then suggested a Jamaican one. I couldn't let that slide and exclaimed, "What?! You want rum and fist fights? Awesome! Let's do that!"

Cindy then eagerly suggested a bagpiper, then Dawn suggested a trumpeter and I declared that we should do both for the thrill of it. Mom listened to us riffing back and forth and looked a little...perturbed. She was trying not to laugh, but she was also red eyed and trembling on the edge of crying again. I figured she needed a good laugh and kept being ridiculous. Pretty soon, I latched onto the phrase "Dad would've want it that way." and used it to support almost any idea we ran across.

Doughnuts? Dad would've wanted doughnuts. Story time at the funeral home? You betcha. Rum? Absolutely. Pie? Dad really would've wanted us to have pie. (To date, we still haven't had pie. We need to work on that.) And so we passed the time. Outgoing calls, incoming calls, a short round of discussion over whether the local University could have his body or not (By the way, did you know there are brain banks? If you, or someone you know, has a disease like Alzheimer's and wants to donate their brain to help continue research and eventually find a cure, you can donate just your brain. Or, if you'd like to help further medical research as a whole, you can donate your whole body.), we voted not to give them his body if they weren't going to use it for Alzheimer's research. After numerous phone calls my older sister, the nurse, found the right person to get dad's brain to and that bit was done.

The question about whether we'd have an open casket funeral followed by cremation was stomped flat. No one within our family or among dad's friends needed to see dad like that. It was a situation where my silly little phrase was completely useful. Dad never would've wanted that. Instead we opted for immediate cremation. When the van came to take dad's body away, the nursing home staff lined up in the corridor like an honor guard. He'd only been there a few months, but they got to know him pretty well and everyone loved my mom who was there every single day he was in there. We thanked them, said goodbye, and then trooped down to the funeral home to make the last of the arrangements.

Never having lost anyone close to me before, fortunately, I was all at sea when it came to local funeral rituals. What are "visitation hours" used for? Who goes to those? Can't we just skip to the funeral and interment? Why are those are done separately? What about all of those scenes in the movies where herds of mourners are at the grave sites and the famous Dust to Dust speech is given? Clearly I had a lot to learn.

Oh, and in case you were wondering? Funeral homes are kinda creepy. Yeah, you say, you're not surprised, but when you come face to face with an ancient print of Little Bo Peep on the wall that screams horror movie ghost girl at you, you'll know what I mean. Antique furniture that you just know was bought when it was new in the 1800s, depressingly serious wall colors, quietly consoling artwork and the casket room added to the Creep Factor. It wasn't scary, per se, but kinda spooky. Sounds seemed oddly muffled.

As I mentioned earlier, my dad had been dying for a long time and yet mom never got around to choosing an urn. So when the director asked if we wanted to pick it out, we said yes and three of us trooped after him. Up a rickety set of stairs into what would be the attic, with its oppressive slanted roof, where several caskets were on display up on lucite Xs. It's important to note that when not in use, clear lucite Xs should be stored flat along a wall unless you want a 6' tall man, distracted by a room full of coffins, to put his foot right through one.

Oh, yes. Oh, yes he did indeed.

We stifled some laughter at my brother's expense and turned our attention to the shelf full of urns and a rotating display case full of...coffin bling.

I kid you not.

There, on a rotating rack in front of the shelf full of urns, was a selection of what was clearly meant to be coffin or urn adornments. There was an open mouthed bass; a plaque with trees and a lake enscribed with the word Dad; a flowered disc and other items that I can't recall since I was too busy trying not to giggle. Once Cindy made ooh-ing noises about the fish, all I could focus on was how to redirect her interest in case she got serious about it. Veto plans firmly in place, I turned my gaze to what would be the final resting place for my dad's ashes.

Turns out there are all kinds of urns available in all kinds of shapes, colors and sizes. On the way up the stairs, I had threatened my brother with a pink flowered box for dad's ashes and sure enough, there was one waiting. Instead, we all chose the simple stainless urn inscribed with a Greek Key. Dad would have approved. Another bonus: you couldn't attach any bling to it. Fish crisis averted! Decision made, we trooped carefully back down the stairs. My gaze traveled across caskets with pink interiors, fluffy cream colored pillows, engraved brass plaques that declared this to be Dad's Final Resting Place and lids carved with images of trees and deer. I was suddenly glad that we were skipping right to cremation. You can spend an awful lot of money on a tricked out box!

I'm pretty certain dad would've wanted us to save the money for rum and pie.

In the office once again, we finalized the text for the obituary (Those things can get pretty long!) that Cindy had been working on; arranged for cremation on Monday, visitation hours on Tuesday afternoon and the funeral and interment on Wednesday morning. As it turns out, there's a lot of Red Light, Green Light when it comes to funeral planning. Religious funeral? Church. Catholic? Funeral with eulogy. Not Catholic? Eulogy during visitation instead. Mass with service or without? Would the children do readings during the visitation service or the funeral? Readings needed to be on the approved list. I really had no idea.

Updated to add: Cindy reminded me about the Ashes Issue. As we were wrapping up, Cindy remembered to ask for some of dad's ashes to be set aside for scattering, per his wishes.

Cindy suddenly remembered that dad had wanted his ashes sprinkled over the Hammond River and asked the funeral director to save some. "Not a lot!" she added, hurriedly, in case he got the wrong idea. "Just some. A little." I looked at her oddly, a light dancing in my eyes and barely restrained myself. "What?" Clearly I was being a pain.

"You're worried you're going to get a big old bag of ashes to haul around, aren't you? A one pound bag of Dad." Horrified, Cindy began gesturing emphatically and attempted to explain. I laughed at the image of a gallon sized baggie of Dad being thumped down in front of her for scattering, but the director assured us that he understood completely. Second crisis averted! We were totally getting the hang of this!

Decisions made and one burning personal question answered (What happens in cremation if you have a metal hip? What do they do with it? Could you get it back if you wanted it?) for my brother,* we went home to mom's house. We all declared it was time for Rum.

Fisticuffs optional.

*No pun intended. Seriously. I even said it that way while we were in the office. Let's just call it a Freudian slip and move on, shall we?


Anonyvox said...

So what DO they do with the hip? I'm very curious.

I'm sorry for your loss, but so glad you could see the humor. When my grandmother died after her 8 year battle with Alzheimer's, we were all really glad to have some funny stories to tell about those times. Like how she snuck some of my niece's clothes out of the dresser and gave them back to her for Christmas. :-)

I've donated my body to the University of Tennessee Body Farm. I want to get a shirt made that says, "On Loan from UTC."

Jenna said...

My heart goes out to you and yours. My MIL passed away in December & I can tell you that things could have been less "ok". It's so great that you all had each other and found the ability to find all the emotions you needed to get through it!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Vox: after cremation, they run a large magnet over the cremains and draw out the nails from the coffin and any metal that was in the body: teeth, hips, etc. All of it is sent off with medical waste. Unless you ASK for the bits, that is.

Oh and they want to know if you have a pacemaker. Apparently it will explode if cremated. Whoops! I love that you're on loan from UTC! Get that shirt made and start some conversations.

Thanks Jenna. I'm sorry to hear about your MIL. I know that in many ways we were "lucky", it's just hard to look at all dad has missed out on.

Cousin Janet in New York said...

Only you, Tracy, could write so beautifully about the death of your dad, & have me hysterical laughing with you. But it only brings to mind what Gramma (Emma) always said......"Baby!! You've GOT to LAUGH!!!!!!" So not only would 'dad have wanted it this way' but so would Gramma. So good of you to donate his brain. Looking forward to seeing you all soon!!!!!!

Tadd said...

Hey Hatchet. Just wanted to say sorry for your loss.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Thanks Tadd. Hey, how are your twins?

Tadd said...

Hi Hatchet. They are doing unbelievably well. My wife recently ran across this, and I think it fits our experience to a T.

Considering where we started out, we couldn't ask for anything more.

Yours are looking beautiful and BIG!

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