penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

You can’t take it with you

with one comment

The year before she died, my mom did a very big favour for the family. It was a very brave thing to do, and it provided the last protection she could for us – even after she was gone.

She planned her own funeral.

Last winter, knowing her time was increasingly finite, she walked into the funeral home of her choice.  She wanted to be cremated so she picked out the plainest box.  She wanted to be interred in the lake where she spent her teen years and so she picked out the plainest urn that would dissolve on contact with water. She picked out the pictures, the stationary and the charity she wanted people to give to in lieu of flowers. She wrote her own obituary. She asked for a private visitation by family, and a more public one with relatives, friends and colleagues.

Then she went over to the church and did the same thing.  She picked out the music, the bible passages, the prayers.  She was a bit annoyed because the church, being a bit on the conservative side, would not budge on having outside singers coming in or on having Ave Marie sung.  They also were clear they didn’t want a eulogy delivered (the priest, of course, having the final word on what happens in death and the hereafter).  But she did not want to rock the boat and so stuck with the plan – and besides, as she said “who would give the eulogy anyway?”  She was so right – the day of the funeral I could barely stand up, put on clothes and walk a straight line, let alone be able to give a speech worthy to reflect my mom’s life.

And so, hours after she died, my father, brothers and I convened at the funeral home to go over last minute details.  There really wasn’t much to do because she had planned so well.  We only had to make a few corrections based on some errors the funeral home had made (and try not to be accidently up-sold in our moment of grief).  Only one unexpected thing had not been planned.

What would mom wear in the casket for the family visitation and when she was cremated?

This was something that had never occurred to me, and I had never thought to ask mom.

What do you want to wear for an eternity?

Dad asked me to look through mom’s clothes and see if I could find something suitable.  When I got back to mom and dad’s place I opened mom’s closets, and realized it was a much harder thing to decide than I thought.  And looking at all those clothes it was brought shockingly, forcefully home to me  – you really can’t take anything with you.

I thought about the afterlife that none of us can know about.  I thought about the Egyptian Kings and Chinese Emperors – buried with their slaves and soldiers, art and artifacts, household pets and horses.  Hoping that they would all come with them into the after world and give them comfort.  I have a feeling a lot of people and cats died for nothing.

What do you pack for that final trip?  What do you need if you were only going to be cremated with only the clothing on your back? Where was mom going? Was the journey long? Would she prefer style or comfort? I knew she would probably want to look good – even if it was just for the few of us and only for a few minutes.  Was it cold or warm?  Mom had spent the last month of her life alternately shivering and burning.  The day she died was one of the coldest in a forgotten summer.  All of these things played on my mind.

I rummaged through her closet, discarding this idea and that.  Finally I came up with two options – a summer dress with flowers that she had worn to her retirement party and a brown metallic fall outfit she used to like to wear to dances.  But I couldn’t decide on my own – I could almost feel mom hovering as I hesitated.  If there was an after world, I didn’t want to make a mistake.

I called my brothers and dad up to help me.  At least if we all chose together, mom couldn’t just blame me for dressing her wrong for an eternity.   They all looked and no one said anything for a while.  In the end, we all agreed on the brown fall outfit because it looked both warm and stylish yet comfortable. Something to last for a long time.

Later that day we visited mom’s earthly remains for the last time.  She was in a plain pine box, with paper interior and ropes for handles.  She looked tiny and already far, far away in the distance.  I once again realized it didn’t really matter what she had on – she had already gone and taken everything she could with her.  There was just emptiness left behind.

All of this had a greater impact on me that I expected. It made me realize that while I have tried not to be possessed by my possessions, I sometimes still have a gnawing need for stuff.  It’s hard to get over.  In the end though, you go as you came into this world – bearing only your own body. No earthly material item, no matter how important it is to you, means anything at all. Nothing.

However, just in case, I have already thought about what I would want to wear for that final journey.  I want to go in comfort.  Warm, fluffy jammies, a house coat and a pair of slippers are all I need.

I should tell someone that now so that nobody has to worry about it later.


Written by pennyinacastle

September 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Random thoughts

One Response

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  1. absolutely beautiful Jeanette, tears and laughter as I think of you in the midst of all this… and understand so well… five years is the length of time it took me to take my “share” of my mom’s ashes from the turtle box my dad chose to keep them in a the cottage, to finally set her free in Lake of the Woods… it was beautiful too. peace be with you. and perhaps our moms have found one another, I’ll tell mine to look for the smiling lady in the brown fall suit. xoxo Katie

    kt mccall

    November 4, 2014 at 4:38 am

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