Tuesday, June 7, 2011

dust to dust

Like the unwanted houseguest who settles in onto your favorite spot on the sofa, and who drinks up all your chilly beer, summer and its side kicks, heat and humidity, have done the same thing. This particularly nasty combination hit my face each morning and sit on my head as I head to the barn, unrelenting and taunting, leaching my mood of any good humor. This farm I enjoy so much of the year is now the source of dread at each day’s arrival as I ponder my “what to do outside the house” list, and I strike off most just because there will not be enough energy left after my “must get done” list is half way completed. I can usually overlook this inconvenience until August, but this year the weight of the heat has got me down, and it looks like a long summer ahead. Sigh…

Why, oh why, did my European ancestors settle here in the south? It can only be that they got here in the fall, and enjoyed the gentle winter, nice spring, and were too entrenched to move once summer laid claim to the area. So, having worked a few horses today, I now am hiding indoors while the sun travels across the sky and am trying to find diversions to control my cabin fever and anger at the heat. Writing, painting, definitely not house cleaning, I will find something I am sure, but thinking cool thoughts isn’t working by it self and the air conditioner hasn’t stopped to rest in a week.

This afternoon I am scheduled to meet with my brother at a funeral home to be planning our parents’ funerals. I have never planned anyone’s funeral, whether dead or alive, and am finding that my thoughts on the subject are a mixed bag of dark humor and puzzlement as to the whole ritual of burying someone. A good friend recently gave me a guide to funerals for dummies type manual, having heard of my parents’ recent decline in health, and suggested that I give it a look and make an attempt to deal with the details of the event before they happen so that the grieving can be done without the stress of casket shopping. I had no idea there were so many options and details to be decided about just to get a human remains in the ground, or burned up and put into a jar, or whatever. It is a bit overwhelming and I am wondering what the heck I am doing making choices that my parents won’t even be around to know if I got it right.

I am not a big fan of funerals, as they rank right in there with weddings to me, just another one of those over inflated events that mark our lives. I have been to some that were terrific in their sadness, but a few that were down right hilarious, too. Mark had a friend who died years ago and so we went to Birmigham to send old friend, Jimmy, on to the next astral plane. Jimmy had been cremated and was in a shoe box shaped container when we arrived at the grave site where friends and family stood around about an irregular shaped, 6 inch or so, diameter hole in the ground.

A young boy was holding the box and the dutiful preacher held his bible in front of his chest and the funeral began, somber words from the preacher spilling forth to the family to help them with the reality of Jimmy having moved on and the finality of the physical and the immortality of the afterlife, etc, etc etc. Finally when the preacher has said his fill, it was time for Jimmy’s ashes to return to the ground and the young boy was told to put Jimmy in the hole.

The kid approached the hole and very reverently positioned the box to line up with the cavity. In the box slid, and then stopped. The boy gave a slight push with his foot to encourage Jimmy to move on down, trying not to look inept, but was not successful at either. He gave another push, and then looked up for advice from the preacher. The box was hanging up on a bit of ground in this post hole and wasn’t looking like it was going anywhere, so the preacher walked over to see if he could help. After his pushes were also not working, more friends came over to see how many guys it took to stuff a fellow into the afterlife. After numerous attempts to stomp, shove, and cajole Jimmy to get his body buried, they had to pull the stuck box out to assess the problem. It was getting to be a very awkward moment, with Jimmy’s poor grieving family sitting there in tears watching this funereal chaos. Jimmy went in, and then he came out, then back in again, but still with no progress.

Finally, somebody got the silly giggles and their futile attempts to stifle their snickers got worse, and it was contagious. The moment was shattered and nervous laughter erupted onto everybody’s faces, even the preacher. Something was said about how Jimmy had always been the rebel and had never gone the normal path of life and he wasn’t doing it now in death and another round of deep laughter was set off and the mood of the funeral was lightened. Eventually one of the funeral home folks got a set of idiot sticks, a post hole digger, and cleaned the hole out enough to let Jimmy get six feet under. Dirt was thrown into the hole and Jimmy was at rest, finally.

Then the funniest flower arrangement I have ever seen was at my husband’s grandfather’s funeral. There was an easel holding a fluffy plaque to which was attached a pink plastic princess shaped telephone with the handset left dangling in the air. The floral writing on the thing stated the obvious, “Jesus called…!” Dad would have rolled over in his grave at the silly thing, but he wasn’t in there just yet, and quietly lay before us with a rather stoic face.

Dad had spent a good bit of time working through the depression years as a well digger and the lingering claustrophobia stayed with him even ‘til his death, and in his final wishes he said that he was not be put under ground and wanted a final parking place in a building, whatever you call those places, where caskets are put into lockers. After his funeral service was over we stood around talking with relatives much longer than our youngest daughter, then four or five years old, saw fit and so she took it upon herself to walk over to the still open casket, reached up to the lid and pulled it closed, and turned and said “Dead Dad”. She was right and we left to drive home.

Now as I sort through the huge stack of papers my mother gave me to take to the funeral home to pre-purchase their caskets and services, I am looking through plot deeds and who is already resting in which slots, and how many bodies can be stacked where. My mother bought a large section of this graveyard many years back and we have room for a very large clan, and then some, with each slot being able to bury two stacked on top. There is rank even in death it seems.

I see here the statement of funeral costs for my grandmother, who died a few years back, and who got only the minimal of services. The cost of her minimal burial was around four thousand dollars. Holy cow…What a racket death has become to cost so much merely to dispose of a body, and how complicated it all is, especially for the living who have to deal with the details of something that is a normal and expected part of life. Rituals get us through many things though, and so with my parents advancing time of death, we will go through these details today to have the basics of their passing set into place, so that we can grieve and miss them when the time comes for them to start pushing up daisies. The decisions for today, among others, will be what color caskets and liners they will look best in, but I promise I will not be talked into the solid gold ones that will keep a body fresh for two centuries. Dust to dust, no mummies please.

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