, ,

Morbid, right? In a sense, yes. In another, no.

Around twelve years ago, my four older siblings and their spouses started planning for their funerals by buying cemetery plots. I followed their actions via our email chats. Since I’m five to eleven years younger, I saw no need to start planning.

Now, unbelievably, six of those eight have passed away. And I’m that much older; my husband and I have moved many miles from Chicago, our home for the last fifty years, to be near our daughter and her family in Sioux Falls, SD; plus I’ve recently had a scary health event.

So, my husband and I knew we had to make plans too. We’d done some preliminary planning back in Chicago, but that didn’t hold true for here. We did not want our kids, one here, the other on the West Coast, to get a phone call and then have to deal with Now what?

I asked new friends for funeral home recommendations. When none surfaced as “the best,” I did what any logical person would do: establish criteria; location, curb appeal, and name. The one I chose was near us, reminded me of one of my sister’s first homes–a rose-tinged-beige brick ranch, and sported the same name as our beloved condo in downtown Chicago.

I made an appointment for my husband and me to talk with a funeral director and asked our daughter to come along. We spent an hour gathering information and then took forms home to fill in and sign.

So, this past week, we’ve been filling out forms. Burial or cremation? Cemetery, columbarium, other? Funeral or prayer service? Services at funeral home or church? Clergy? Organist? Vocalist? Music selections? Favorite Bible passages, poetry, quotations and verses, etc.? Memorial contributions? Organ donations? Special requests? And more.

Having the paperwork on the kitchen table for a week relentlessly reminded me of my mortality. It felt as though I was already living our deaths, making me obsess about what I would do if I found my husband dead.

Naturally, my dreams picked up the theme. One night I awoke in a flash, stiffened with fear. I could not hear my husband breathe. I bonked his arm. Nothing. I groped his face. Cold and clammy. My pulse skyrocketed. What do I do? We’d not planned for how to handle a death in the middle of the night. Should I call my daughter? No, what could she do at this hour? Should I call the funeral home? No, I’d want my daughter with me when they came. Just that quickly, my nurse-self kicked in: I should straighten his limbs and prop his mouth shut with a rolled towel before rigor mortis set in, and the mortician would not be able to straighten him or get his mouth to close. One last time, I bonked his arm. Harder. He groaned.

I inhaled an enormous breath.

When I told my husband about the incident in the morning, he said, with his droll sense of humor, “If I die in the middle of the night, just roll over, go back to sleep, and deal with me in the morning.”

I’m happy this “dry run” happened. I’m more aware that all our written plans can’t cover every scenario. But at least our kids know they won’t get calls in the middle of the night, and most information will be on file at the funeral home, as well as copies at home.

And, once I got that paperwork off the kitchen table, I felt an invisible cement cape fall from my body. I resolve to live fully now, in the present, leaving those “planning” worries behind. After all, I may live another twenty years, like my mother who lived to ninety-five.

But, thinking ahead, if you should come to my “Celebration of Life” service, please be sure to sing with joy the closing song that I’ve picked out, knowing that after a long life in Chicago, followed by an older-age interval in Sioux Falls, I will have arrived, truly, at my final home.

Oh sing to the Lord, oh sing God a new song.
Oh sing to the Lord, oh sing God a new song.
Oh sing to the Lord, oh sing God a new song.
Oh sing to our God, oh sing to our God.

For God is the Lord, and God has done wonders…

So dance for our God, and blow all the trumpets…

Oh shout to our God, who gave us the Spirit…

For Jesus is Lord! Amen! Hallelujah!
For Jesus is Lord! Amen! Hallelujah!
For Jesus is Lord! Amen! Hallelujah!
Oh sing to our God, oh sing to our God.

Brazilian Folk Hymn