Monday, March 30, 2009

Contemplating the End

I sat with a dear friend yesterday--someone who is over 80, and has many friends and family, but no direct descendants. I had my laptop on my knees, and we discussed what would happen after she died. With no children to plan the funeral, who would do what? I wanted to give her the opportunity to have input into her affairs after she no longer was around to speak to the situation.

It was an odd conversation that had moments of "the shivers"--open casket vs. closed? It also had moments of laughter--no lilies on the casket 'cuz she's allergic, and please, don't spend too much on the casket--it's just going in the ground anyway. What would she wear in the casket? Well--it depends on the time of year, y'know--have to dress for the season. And she didn't want me to write down a specific outfit just yet--because she is going to buy a nice summer outfit this season. At first--no salami at the funeral lunch--because she's never like salami--but then, she remembered, she wouldn't be there, and if others liked it, then it would probably make sense to have some with the other cold cuts. We talked about reviewing and updating her choices of songs, scripture, and so on, annually for years to come as she continues to grow and evolve as a person.

Then I started recording her life history--something that may die with her unless it is recorded. The stories of her childhood, the memories of her parents that cause her eyes to redden even now as she thinks about them. The images of her childhood scrolled through her mind as she reflected on those years. Things she hadn't thought about in a long time--things nobody has asked her about for a long time.

It was the oddest afternoon, punctuated by nervous giggles, odd comments about the surreal nature of the conversation, and huge belly laughs. There were times when it felt like we were planning a party, and other times when we contemplated life's meaning, living out values, and leaving legacies. And I left, honored by her trust, and her candidness, and her ability to handle having a conversation about death--something that is inevitable for all of us. We all deny death, somehow leave it out of conversations and our reality. She's got guts...and a sense of humor about it all.

I remember reading Robert Fulghum who talked about the value he took in sitting at his own still-empty grave plot regularly, to develop perspective, goals, and to ground himself in reality that freed a person up to live..."Don't get lost here. Know where you are going."

I'll remember our conversation yesterday. I'll remember it when I will have tears in my eyes at her funeral. And it will be an ongoing reminder to me that there is a bigger picture that I need to be aware of--it's easy to forget that when the garbage isn't taken out...AGAIN! Oh, that the perspective would free me from majoring on the insignificant things in my life that sometimes threaten to take over.

How many of us are willing to do that?

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