October has been a bitch of a month and it is only two-thirds done. Usually, October is my second favorite month, but I will be happy to see this one in the rear-view mirror.
On September 30, we got word that my mother-in-law had suffered a fatal brain injury and that my sister-in-law was only waiting for everyone to get there (“there” being the length of the country away from where we live) before discontinuing life support.
We flew back East, and said our goodbyes. G. was taken off life support. We prepared for her last breaths.
They didn’t come. In fact, G. held on for eight more days before dying. She never liked me (and, after enough rejection, the feeling was mutual), but I have to admit she was one tough old lady.
I have never been with someone as they die. It’s a profoundly moving and at the same time disturbing experience. I don’t know how health care workers can handle being around dying people all the time. COVID-19 must be brutal for them.
We arranged for a family visitation (it was decided that the word “viewing” was too gruesome) and a small graveside service. She was being buried in a military cemetery alongside her husband, and we were not allotted much time for a ceremony. (Pro-tip: if you are a veteran (having served at least during wartime — I don’t know about any other time), you can be buried in a military cemetery. The government won’t supply the casket or funeral services, but they will supply a plot, grave-liner, and headstone. And spouses can be buried alongside the veteran. If you find yourself in a relevant situation, ask your funeral director. We were lucky; when my father-in-law died, we dealt with an ethical funeral home that told us about all this.)
I remember the meeting with the funeral home. My job was to be quiet, although I took it upon myself to look through the flower book and make suggestions. (The flowers turned out to be lovely.) I occupied myself by looking at the funeral urns scattered about the walls.
Although the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy and Railfan were not able to come for the services, the Red-Headed Menace was able to get away from their doctoral program and fly down from the Northeast. It was good to see the RHM, even under such circumstances.
Immediately after the graveside service, we got word that the Rocket Scientist’s cousin had died from complications of COVID. We added five more days on our trip so that we could attend his funeral.
We overdressed: wearing the black velvet pants I had worn for my MIL’s service, with the Rocket Scientist in a suit, we stood out among the people in blue jeans and rock and roll t-shirts. Given that the deceased was buried in jeans and cowboy boots (although a nice shirt) holding a Bud Light, with a “Trump Team” hat in the casket with him, such attire was strangely appropriate. Welcome to South Georgia, y’all. We were also (with one exception) the only people (of the thirty or so that drifted in and out) wearing masks. It was a sure bet that some of them were not vaccinated — some of the RS’s other cousins had only gotten vaccinated after the deceased ended up in the hospital. Again, welcome to South Georgia.
We then had the unenviable task of emptying out my MIL’s clothes closets and preparing them for donating. As an avid smoker, her clothes reeked. We had to wash all of them extensively with vinegar to get the smell out. (When we got home, my clothes smelled from the tobacco smoke that clung to the walls, even though she had not lived there for a year.)
We then locked the house up and flew home. All of us may gather there at Christmas, one last time, and then prepare the house for rental.
I was glad to be home, even if I am sort of stuck in my room (or at least wearing a mask in the rest of the house) for a few days. (Because we flew, and because of RS’s cousin’s funeral, we are self-quarantining and then taking an antigen test.) My cat was, we think, glad to see us. While we were away, she peed everywhere. Five times on my bed, three on the NSLDB’s, various other places where we can smell a generalized odor but can’t locate the source. Making the house presentable — it’s only barely livable — is going to be a big task. Of course, that’s true even when the cat hasn’t peed everywhere.
Anyone need a black and white catskin rug? Just kidding. We love her. Usually.
Being confronted with death got me thinking, both about life and what I want when I die.
- I need to take better care of myself. My health is terrible, and I do little to improve it. I want to postpone as long as possible the moment when my loved ones have to sit there crying while I gasp out my last breath.
- I need to do more enjoyable and exciting things. Sometimes I think I am not living but merely marking time.
- Resentment and anger are eating me up inside. I need to work on not spending so much time feeling aggrieved.
- I have too much stuff. It is going to be a headache for someone to go through all of it after I die. Most of it is not even good stuff. (Lots of books. LOTS of books.)
- I want to be used for something after I die. I am officially an organ donor but I doubt any of my organs are donatable. But don’t stop there: give my body to a med school so some eager student can learn about anatomy, or strip the flesh from my bones so some befuddled pre-med can learn to differentiate the ulna from the tibia.
- If you decide to cremate me, don’t put my ashes in an urn on the entertainment center (where we currently have a former cat’s). Don’t just scatter them in the ocean. Bury them, and plant a tree on top of me. Let me nurture in death.
- The preacher at the cousin’s funeral didn’t know him. He gave a terrible sermon, which among other things, questioned whether the cousin had repented enough of his wild life on his deathbed to enter heaven. I know at least four Episcopal priests and am related by marriage to an Orthodox priest, so for heaven’s sake have someone run my memorial service who knows me — preferably well. Even if you have to fly them in.
- Don’t let a funeral home try and upsell. The simplest, least expensive casket (although I do prefer wood), if you choose to bury me. Carnations, not roses. Yes, I know that roses are more traditional (and cost more) but carnations are my favorite flowers. Red would be good, or the striped kind.
- Mainly, life’s too short, and death is permanent.
One last thing: GET YOUR COVID SHOT. The first and second rounds or, if you are eligible, the booster. The Rocket Scientist’s cousin was 58 when he died from COVID-19. I don’t know how old a good age is to die, but that’s too young.