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Monday, July 3, 2017

The Orgy of Death

When I was a kid, I read an Englishman's scholarly tome on Ancient Egyptian customs. One of his comments has stuck in my head. He regarded the ancient civilization as being obsessed with death.

The more I've studied over the years, the more I realize that statement isn't true. Talk about laying you own hang-ups at someone else's feet.

A lot of people think I'm obsessed with the subject of death as well. I do write about it, but am I obsessed? Not really. I acknowledge death, the inevitability of it, which is more than white American culture can do.

So why is this on my mind? My mother-in-law passed away on Friday, June 16, 2017, at 2:06 a.m.

We Americans are so very precise about our time, aren't we? In reality, that is simply the time on the paramedics' watches when they arrived at her apartment, and they pronounced her dead.

Because you see the process had started some time before that. Some would say it was five minutes before when the aides at the assisted living apartment stopped CPR because my mother-in-law had a Do Not Resuscitate order on file. Some would say it happened when she stopped breathing about ten minutes before the CPR ended.

Maybe it really started earlier on Thursday when she was at rehab and her blood oxygen level dropped even though she was on O2 at the time. Maybe it started with that last trip to the hospital this spring. Maybe it really started when she fell at their old Victorian back on December 6, 2015.

Or maybe it all started years ago when she tried to raise my son as she had her other five grandchildren, and I told her that being a grandma was a much cooler job than being the parent. However, the grandma job was one she never truly relished.

But when she was actually gone, and I looked at the corpse on the floor of her bedroom in the wee hours of Friday, it was done for me.

The first thing anyone will say as they read this is that everyone grieves in their own way.

And that's very true. However, what truly bothers me are two things:

1) that we no longer respect death, and to die shows a failure on someone's part, and

2)  that we, as a culture, now lavish that same excess to funerals as we do births, weddings, and quinceaneras.

Around 2:15 a.m. that same morning, I had to console the RN and the two aides. Reassure them that they had done the right thing by following the DNR and ceasing CPR. Even DH, in a moment of black humor that usually only I display, he said that his mother probably heard them call the ambulance, said, "Screw that!" and took off for heaven. Because she had been adamant after the spring stint that she was not going back to the hospital.

The medical team at the apartment didn't fail. The doctors and nurses at the hospital during her various admissions over the last two years didn't fail. This is about a woman at the end of her natural lifespan, not failure or success.

Since she passed over Father's Day weekend, that put a crimp in vacation plans since some family had already left town, so all scheduling had to be shoved back an extra couple of days. Add to that, selecting a casket, flowers, planning the ceremony, etc., etc., etc. Then there was the private family viewing and two sessions of visitation before the actual funeral on Tuesday. All of the added stress of putting together a major ceremony while dealing with grief? Why do we do this to ourselves?

It's traditional.

Gah! I hate that term. It's an excuse. Traditions can be and are changed all the time.

I've already put together my funeral directives. I die? Cremate me, take the ashes to Hawaii, scatter them, and go get drunk on the leftover money in my estate. In fact, DH has already picked out the bar in Lahaina on Maui.

Celebrate my life. Tell stories. Read stupid passages from my books. Save enough money for the cab ride back to the hotel.

But whatever y'all do, please don't turn my passing into a fucking five-day orgy of death. My ghost will not be pleased.

5 comments:

  1. This kind of thing is tough. I've had a lot of relatives die (my mom was an only child, but my grandmother had seven sisters) and yeah, the day after day of viewings and visitations before you even get to the funeral can be pretty horrible, especially for a kid.

    At the same time, though, the funeral activities are for the living, not the dead. My mom wants something similar to you (without the Hawaii thing [grin]) just to be cremated and that's it. I try to keep it to myself, but it kind of bugs me that she doesn't want to be buried in the same cemetary as all our other family members. She says she wants me and my brother to alternate custody of her ashes every six months, which... yeah, that's not going to happen for very long.

    But still. :/ I mean, we could put her ashes in the vault-thing with her parents, near my great aunts and uncles? I dunno. I guess the pull of tradition is pretty strong on me (maybe because I went to so many funerals from the time I was a kid?) and I'm trying to suppress what I want, as a presumed survivor, in favor of what my mom very clearly wants.

    But still.

    However you look at it, it's a sucky situation for everyone. All we can do is deal as well as we can. [hugz]

    Angie

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    1. Angie, at least you admit that tradition is important to you for [reasons]. Most people just go along with it without considering any implications. The alternate custody thing? No, I can't see you and your brother doing that. LOL

      But I can't talk. DH swore up and down he was scattering our dogs' ashes at their favorite parks. Two of the sets are in storage, and the last pup is still sitting in my office. *eye roll*

      Another part of my problem is the sheer cost for a "traditional" ceremony. I mean, there were caskets that cost more than my brand-new car! I'd rather see DH give GK that money for a down payment on a house or a business than using it to bury me in style. I can't imagine trying to cough up that kind of money when you're on a fixed income!

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    2. I agree about the cost. You can spend a completely ridiculous amount on a coffin, yes. I'd be fine with a plain pine box, you know? I'll be dead, I won't care. You can have a nice service without spending a fortune, but the recently bereaved are too often in no emotional condition to make those decisions, and I've heard that some unscrupulous funeral directors guilt people into spending way too much money. From that POV, I agree that it's a good thing to make your own decisions while you're alive, and pay for it all, as much as you can, so your descendents will at least know that, no, you really didn't want a platinum-lined casket. [eyeroll]

      Angie

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    3. OMG! I wish I'd taken a picture of the mahogany casket with the bright red velvet interior to send to you!

      FIL asked which one I liked. I said MIL would have been happy with any casket but that one!

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    4. OMG seriously?? [facepalm] Poor guy. Someone at the funeral home definitely got to him. :/

      Angie

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