I knew my mom would be buried in a traditional casket because she picked it out herself after my dads funeral: 18 gauge steel, antique white with a silver rose finish, light pink velvet interior, adjustable bed and mattress, gold jewel-tone accessories with rose inlay. It was a thing of beauty, as were the pink roses that cascaded over the lower half of it. Everything was going into a concrete vault in the ground. Thats the way mom's generation did death.
My caregiver sister had often joked with my mom about what outfit she wanted to be buried in, which jewelry she wanted to display. Mom was in an elegant gray lace jacket that complemented her silver hair. Her fingernails were a rose pink and she wore both her diamond rings and her mothers.
Although she looked nothing like herself after embalming, that is to be expected even though my sister had emphasized she wanted mom to look natural. As with plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures, you never know what youre going to get until the big reveal. I wish we had been able to count on Federicos skill, the mortician on HBOs Six Feet Under. Of course he was working on live people, and it wasnt really him it was a make-up artist, and Six Feet Under was killed in 2005, although it has been resurrected in rerun heaven. Federico created expectations our funeral home could not meet.
Because mom died on a Saturday night we had to wait until Monday morning to discuss the dates of the visitation and funeral, even though family members were waiting restlessly to make their travel plans. We chose the quickest option Wednesday night and Thursday morning but felt terribly rushed following through with all the details.
How do Jews get their family members buried in 24 hours? I asked our funeral home guy They have their own people come and wash the body, he answered. They put it in a wooden coffin, usually pine, sometimes with holes in the bottom so the body can decompose faster, and get it in the ground. Would that be more or less stressful?
Part of our challenge was that we were making a video of our mom's life using only 50 photos from her dozens of albums and 4 songs we had to find on iTunes. It was an extra, but we felt it was important for family and others to see the evolution of a life, from baby to really old person. Mom's life (as most people's lives) was not about trying to stay young and fit for as long as possible. It was about providing for and taking care of her family and surviving as long as she could enjoy a full breakfast with bacon and eggs. She was a beautiful person in every stage of her life.
Even though there are two more plots next to my parents' cemetery plots -- one for my sister, perhaps to be shared by me if we are cremated -- by Wednesday afternoon we were slaphappy enough that my sister was telling her sons to throw her on a grill over their firepit when she was dead, burn her body, collect the ashes in a bin, and sprinkle them over mom and dad's graves.
I, too, would rather go up in a puff of smoke than contaminate the earth with formaldehyde, waste tons of steel, copper, and bronze, and tie up tillable land with a reinforced concrete vault plus waste wood that could be using for housing. And I dont want pesticides keeping the grass green above me. Dedicate a bench in my name in a nature preserve, plant a tree or a rose.
My sisters are coming next week for more bonding after burying my mom. I want to start sorting through pictures for our life videos, keeping the same limitations 50 photos, 4 songs, 7 minutes. My ashes will turn into dust, but I do want to remind my children and grandchildren that I lived a complete life, from birth to death, and I hope the same for them.
Judy Kirkwood writes for thirdage.com frequently.