Calla Lilies

“It’s morbid and I really, really don’t want to talk about this,” my brother stated from his perch on the floor of our living room.

The Hospice social worker and counselor had both come to our house this evening to meet with my mother and all three of us kids with one goal in mind:  to plan my mother’s funeral.

The social worker and counselor told my  mother that it could be very comforting for those left behind to see all of the details in place exactly as the person who had passed away had wanted them.  It was also a comfort for the dying person, to know that they had relieved their survivors of having to make the decisions.  They would know where to have donations sent, which funeral home to use, whether or not a casket should be open or not.

“This is exactly the conversation I never got to have with my mother when she died,” my mother explained to my brother, who was clearly not interested in this conversation.  “And that led to arguments between me and my brother and your father.  They all wanted an open casket, but I knew my mother wanted a closed one.  But because we never had the conversation, they didn’t know that was what she wanted.  I want you all to know what I want, and that way that will be one less worry you all have after.”

After.  The word hung in the air, no one wanting to acknowledge it.

I finally broke the silence.  “I get it.  I remember our grandmother’s open casket.  It is, in fact, my first memory.  My first memory is of her funeral.”

My mother blinked.  “Really?  I never knew that.”

“It’s true.  I remember our father picking me up so I could see her.  He told me to tell her goodbye.  I remember thinking, if I never tell her goodbye, maybe she’ll come back to life.  So I never did.”

“I can’t believe you remember all of that,” my sister put in.  “You were so little.”

“It was just before my fourth birthday.”  I paused.  I had been about to say that my young son was even younger than that, but I didn’t want to remind my mother that it was quite likely my son, her sweet firstborn grandchild that she loved so dearly, would likely never have a memory of her.

“OK let’s get back on track,” the counselor broke in.  “Now we understand that you may not like doing this, but your mother would like to have the conversation, and I know that you all want to honor her wishes, right?”

My brother reluctantly nodded.

And so the conversation began.  We discussed every bit of the process.  My mother asked to be cremated; both of her parents were cremated and she thought that made sense.

“But where will we bury your ashes?” I asked.

“I don’t want to be buried,” my mother said.  “I don’t want anyone standing around a cemetery feeling sad.  I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to go ‘visit me’.  I won’t be there.  I want you all to take my ashes up to my favorite beach up north, right outside of my favorite restaurant, and I want you to sprinkle my ashes there.  If there is anything to this ‘final resting place’ business, I want to be able to have a good meal and a drink while I watch sunsets and sunrises over the water.”

The social worker chuckled.  “I think that sounds lovely,” she responded.  I took quiet notes.  My sister’s face grew red and I knew she was trying not to cry.

“What about the service?” the counselor asked.  “We know you’re not a religious person.”

“No church service,” she responded.  “I’ve never been very religious.  I think a memorial service at the funeral home is more appropriate.  But I would be very honored if you would officiate at my memorial.”  She nodded to the counselor, who was also a Catholic nun.

“I would be happy to do that for you,” the Sister responded.  “I’m touched that you feel that I would be able to celebrate your life in the way that you lived it.  Even if I am a nun.”

We all chuckled.  We all felt better knowing the Sister would be there to help us through that difficult day.

My mother went on to request that there be no visitation on the days leading up to her service.  “Those visitation days are hard for the family.  Everyone wants you to accept their sadness while you’re so busy trying to not drown in your own.  I don’t want hours and hours spent like that for you guys.”

“I think that’s very considerate,” the social worker chimed in.

“That works for me,” my brother said glumly.

We went on to decide who would eulogize my mother (her brother and my father, which I thought was a bold move), where donations would be sent, what restaurant we would all eat at afterwards, and which funeral home to use.  It was all very tidy, the notes I took, of what to do and when and how.  My mother agreed to write her own obituary in the coming days, so that we would have that ready to go as well.   There was just one question left.

“What kind of flowers?”  My sister asked this.  For someone who planned a wedding, I wasn’t surprised she thought of that.  It would have never occurred to me.

“Well I know how this goes.  You always say donate to a cause instead of flowers, but people always do it,” she laughed.  She thought quietly for a minute.  “The only flowers I want there are calla lilies.  Just a few, standing up elegantly in a clear vase with water in it.  That’s all I want there.”

I wrote it down:  calla lilies.

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2 Responses

  1. […] service went quickly, according to the protocol we’d decided upon with my mother just a few weeks before.  One by one, as each person spoke, as each item was fulfilled, it was as […]

  2. […] two:  they couldn’t figure this out ahead of time?  I did it when I was just twenty two.  We’d planned her arrangements with her before she left us.  But maybe that’s the problem.  Losing my mom at twenty two meant I knew how fragile life […]

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