Friday, June 12, 2009

Death and whatever

I was over at Croft's site where he talked a bit about his brother's burial. It sound like the whole family was there for the occasion and were comforted by the ceremony. I'm happy for them.

It made me want to talk about the deaths of my mother and my mother-in-law. Mom died in September of 2005. She had been a victim of dementia for nine years. One day she just stopped eating or drinking; the home informed us immediately but there was nothing anyone could do. Mom died a couple of days later.

Nine years ago she had told me she wanted to be buried in her special dress but it was certainly nothing special and we wanted to get her something that fit better so we did. It was a simple deep red dress that complimented her nicely. She died in St. Petersburg, FL and was flown to Iowa for her internment. There was room next to my dad for her; he died in 1982. We had a quiet ceremony at the grave site for perhaps fifteen relatives and a couple of friends. The Presbyterian pastor, who had never met my mom, asked for people to talk about mom and I started things off by saying how I was sure she would have liked the gathering; just wished the occasion was different! Other people added their thoughts and the body was lowered into the earth. Then we went off to the local crappy diner and had coffee and cake. It was a nice gathering, as such things are like to be, and we dispersed going our own ways.

Just after we got home from the funeral in Iowa, my wife took her mother to the doctor with a complaint about her breathing. The doctor prescribed full time oxygen and suggested to my wife that she could enroll her mom in Hospice. (In this country the hospice organizations care for the terminally ill . Normally people in Hospice are expected to die within six months.) At any rate, she moved into a nursing home on November 31 and died on January 6. She was a Catholic but had not asked for any service. She wanted to be cremated in an old pair of short and a shirt. My wife couldn't let her go in those old clothes so substituted a nicer shirt and shorts outfit. Her remains were kept in our closet (with those of her beloved Doberman dog) until Easter of 2007 when we spread them in the desert outside of Bullhead City, AZ. Well, we put them both there; according to her wishes.

It is odd the difference, even for us atheists, between the formal leave-taking that marked my mother's internment and the less formal but no less meaningful distribution of my mother-in-law's ashes. The internment was a lot like "drawing a line in the sand". It is a place we could return expecting to have a rock with my mother's name and the years she was on earth. There is no such place or thing for my mother-in-law. My wife and I, alone, could possibly identify the place we left her. Her remains are now certainly blown all over the area.

We are comfortable that we treated each of our mother's in the way they wanted to be treated and with total respect. Is one way better than the other? Not for me and I don't believe for my wife. We did what our mother's wanted and both experiences honored their lives and their end. I must admit that her mother was a sort of drag on us until we had taken her to Arizona as we had promised. As the saying goes, funerals are for the living; in our experience, it doesn't have to be a funeral, simply a good bye is enough.

Take it easy, it's dangerous out there!

1 comment:

Croft said...

It is important to tell people what we want. My parents always said they wanted their ashes spread somewhere nice but when my dad died my mother and I were out-voted by other family members who wanted a "grave to visit". Consequently they are both buried in my brother's in-laws private cemetery. Norma's parents on the other hand, are both scattered on the beach in front of some land they once owned.