Five or six years ago, a family friend died. He was cremated and I brought both my parents to his memorial service. Photos and flowers surrounded his urn as people took turns speaking.
Driving back home, we passed the cemetery where several family members lie, including my maternal grandmother. As if on cue, we all wave. My mother says out loud, “Hi Mama.” And then, “That’s how I want to be dead.”
Me – Huh?
In the front passenger seat, my father may not be able to speak (or walk, due to his stroke) but he can hear and understands fine. He turns my way, rolls his good shoulder and arrows me a look that says, “Don’t get her started.”
Me – Do you mean you want to be dead like your mother?
Mom – Not yet, but when I am , I want to be dead his way.
I consider this for a moment and then ask – Are you talking about Paris (the family friend who just died)?
Mom – Yes!
Me (still unsure) – Do you mean you want to be cremated?
Mom – Yes, burn me up.
Up to this moment, I can’t recall any specific end of life conversations with her, other than knowing well that she did not want to have a wake – “I don’t want anyone who didn’t like me alive, coming to see what I look like dead.”
Me – You really want to be cremated?
Mom – Yes, but first … take my parts.
Me – Parts?
Mom – You know, someone can maybe use my eyes (she has terrible double vision) … My heart, my lungs (smoker). You know…
Me, finally understanding – Oh, you want to be an organ donor.
Mom – And then burn me.
Me – Got it!
Dad turns and gives me another look, as if to say, “Knock it off!” In the backseat, my mother starts waving her arms like a medical maestro.
Mom – We’ll take this part, let’s take that part … Okay, maybe this part too. Give me that eye. And then we dump the rest into the bucket. NEXT!
At this point, I must pull the car over to the side of the road and turn completely around in my seat to face her. My father is pointedly looking out his window, humming loudly. He has left me on my own.
Me – Mom, are you talking about chicken?
Mom – Well, how do you think they do it?
Me – How do they do what? Organ donation? Who told you they do it that way?
Mom – Saw it on TV.
Me (pulling back on the road and imagining various horror flicks) – Okay, if you say so.
We drive in silence for awhile (but for Dad’s humming) and then from the back seat my mother shouts –