My wife and I visited my parents shortly before Thanksgiving. “I don’t want to make you sad,” was how my mother opened a conversation at breakfast one morning. I knew what was coming.
My father just turned 85 and my mother will be doing likewise about three months from now. Dad is nonchalant about getting older; his philosophy has always been that “it’s better than the alternative.” My mother, on the other hand, seems a bit obsessed about her funeral arrangements.
Mom has a notebook detailing her last wishes, and on this occasion, she wished to inform me that she has updated it. And also that she’s made a second copy in case something happens to the first. It’s starting to feel a little creepy.
Now, I know that many will find my mother’s initiative admirable. I would tend to agree if her instructions had something to do with, say, disposition of her assets (she says she doesn’t have a will) or even what type of casket to use or what music to play at her funeral.
No such luck.
My mother doesn’t care about any of that stuff. She says that no one but immediate family would attend her funeral anyway, so there’s no sense in spending money for a lot of worthless nonsense.
Mom’s funeral notebooks are primarily devoted to the minutia of how to have her body transported from California to her family burial plot in New York City. I’m talking about which airline to use, which funeral home to call on this end, which funeral home to call in New York, how to contact the cemetery to have them open a gravesite.
When I try to make sense of this, I remind myself that there is plenty of precedent going back millennia. After all, the Children of Israel honored Joseph’s wishes to bring his bones up from Egypt to be buried in the Promised Land. And that involved forty years of wandering in the desert, not making a reservation with United. But still. Is this really necessary, parents of mine? Yes, I know, Mom, you want to be buried next to your mother. I get it. Um, I think. Uh, why exactly do you insist on staying in California if you wish to spend eternity in New York?
I’m glad that my parents no longer have to deal with the winter weather that they so dislike, but really, why would an octogenarian elect to reside nearly 3,000 miles away from his or her final resting place of choice? To me, it’s simple. I have resided in California for nearly a quarter of a century, and here I will be buried. If California is good enough for me to live in, it’s certainly a good enough location for my headstone. I doubt that I will ever move anywhere else, but if I do, then just bury my carcass there in the local cemetery, please. Don’t even think of transporting my decomposing corpse on a final plane ride to a location thousands of miles away. That’s both insane and insulting.
As for my parents, they made New York their home for the first sixty years of their lives. In my opinion, if they want to spend eternity there, then they had no business moving to California. I think my uncle got it right. He lived down the street from us in New York, and at the age of 92, he’s still there.
What’s even crazier is that Mom has mentioned more than once that, were she terminally ill, she would attempt to travel to New York City so that she could breathe her last in close proximity to the cemetery.
There just isn’t a lot I can say when Mom starts in with this kind of talk and her notebooks. Yes, I assure her, I’ll honor your final wishes. Yes, I know it’s paid for. Yes, I’m glad that you have informed my sisters (since they will likely be doing most of the heavy lifting anyway).
Arguably, my father goes to the opposite extreme. When Dad is asked about his final wishes, he often says something about stuffing his body into a sack and throwing it in the river.
Maybe he’s on to something.