Decisions at the End (#302)

Content Warning: this post deals with burial arrangements. Given that over a million people have recently died due to COVID, alone, and with their families often unable to follow the deceased’s religious or personal wishes regarding their remains, you may want to skip this lighthearted post. If so, I understand. I am sorry for your loss and I hope that your memories of your loved one become more comfort than sorrow.

My Chinese-American husband never worried about death. His only end-of-life plan was purchasing life insurance.

When we had Baby D, I got life insurance, too, and insisted that Andy increase his coverage. Because I am always braced for catastrophe and death, I asked him, “What do you want me to do if you die?”

Andy snorted and said, “What do I care? I’m dead.”

“No, seriously. Do you want to be buried? Cremated?”

“Whatever you want.”

“How about a memorial ceremony with your favorite foods and beer and bourbon?”

“If that’s what you want. Because I don’t care. I’m dead.”

“Okay.” There was a long pause and then I nudged him. “Aren’t you gonna ask me what I want?”

“I am sure you wrote an entire booklet on it and it’s in the “Family Documents” file in your filing cabinet.”

“Maybe,” I allowed. “I mean, at first I just wanted my ashes spread over the Lakes Region and White Mountains in New Hampshire, but then I saw that you could make your remains part of a coral reef. But I hate the idea of not being able to breathe. And then I saw that you can put your ashes in a pot and grow a tree and then plant it and I thought that would be cool in case you or Baby D ever wanted to talk to me. You could go and visit my tree. But you are terrible about watering pets and worse about watering plants. What if my tree dies before you can plant it and then Baby D is left wailing, “You killed Mom AGAIN!”

“Uh.”

“So spread my ashes over New Hampshire and then you guys can go hiking if you wanna talk to me. But put your ear pods in first so no one calls the cops on you.”

Every so often, I’d ask Andy if he’d changed his mind or had any end of life requests.

His answer was always the same: “What do I care? I’m dead.”

****

When Andy’s father finally passed away after a long illness, dementia, and being bedridden for years, Andy flew home. He helped his mother with funeral arrangements. They got rid of Jay’s clothes, hospital bed, and other medical paraphernalia. Andy spent many hours at funeral homes and at Costco, looking for the perfect casket. They spent hours at cemeteries, looking for the perfect burial plot.

After 3 weeks, the funeral was held. Jay didn’t have friends. Only his wife, his children, and his wife’s sisters attended. (Andy and his siblings opted to leave their families at home rather than spend a fortune flying everyone to Hawaii and disrupt school/ work.)

Andy didn’t say much when he returned. He wrestled with Baby D and the animals until bedtime.

Once everyone was asleep and Andy had a beer, I asked, “How bad was it?”

Andy let loose, but not in the way I expected: “Oh my God, honey! Do you know how much caskets cost?! Even the ones from Costco are thousands of dollars! It’s ridiculous! And do you know how hard it is to find a burial plot on Oahu? Except you need two plots because my mom wants to be buried next to him!”

“Really? She actually said that?” (Jay was not an easy person to love.)

“Yes! And do you know how expensive it is to buy a burial plot? Except you don’t buy it, you’re really just renting it! Death is big business and it’s a total scam! Who cares whether the casket is padded?! Argh!”

I handed him another beer.

After a few more sips, Andy said, “You know what, honey? When I’m dead, I don’t want you spending any money. No pink, silk-lined caskets. You put me in a pine box and cremate me and that’s it. No. Wait. You put me in a cardboard refrigerator box.”

“Got it. Anything else? Memorial service? Wake with beer and bourbon? And where should I put your ashes?”

Andy shrugged and said,

“Wherever you want. Because what do I care? I’m dead.”