Sunday, October 16, 2011

Getting Cozy With the Grim Reaper

This last week when the WSB met, we talked about death and cemeteries. Before you think that this was a morbid discussion of such things, let me assure you that the WSB can find humor in almost anything, and they didn’t fail on this occasion.

We all ruminate on death and dying; and at our ages, possibilities rear their heads regularly. In the last year or so, several of the gals have lost a friend or family member. Pasty has been to the local big funeral home so often that they now greet her at the door. That is not a good thing as she has buried a father and brother in that time.

One of the things we were trying to come to terms with is how does a person get comfortable with the loss of a loved one and one’s own inevitable demise? The issue was raised Wednesday because we did not expect Lucy Scarlet to show up. Her elderly father is has been placed on hospice. She has a very close relationship with her dad, and this is a tough time for her. As in many families, one child bears the burden of providing most of the care. That person is Lucy Scarlet. She has been running her parents to one appointment after the other and has been ignoring her own health in the process. We’ve been trying to encourage her to demand some down time. Like that ever works with dedicated caretakers.

Well, she showed up anyway, but she had to pay attention to any incoming calls, as she might need to leave at any time. She also got to talking about her father’s seeming acceptance of what is coming. He has been terrified about dying for several months now, but has found peace with this in the last week or so. She is glad for that, but she still needed to get away and lighten up a bit before what she knows is coming.

I told her that I am surprised at how well some people deal with their own dying. I teach a Sunday school class of older adults; and one of the members, Ann, is a fellow writer buddy. She has just published a book on her West Virginia Appalachian upbringing where death and haints (ghosts) were treated as quite ordinary. The previous Sunday’s lesson was on the Book of Ecclesiastes, which makes three big points.
(1) Life is unpredictable
(2) God is unknowable
(3) Death is inevitable

Ann commented, in class, that she and Elmo, her husband, have already ordered their tombstone and it is in place over their plots. It has everything they want on it already engraved except for their death dates. They decided to go out and inspect the final installation just recently. It was a lovely day and their hillside site was so inviting, they decided to lie down in front of their stone to get the feel of their chosen resting place. And they did just that. Lying side by side with their arms folded as they would be for eternity, they gazed up at the clear autumn sky passing overhead and around at the “view”. They enjoyed every minute of it so Ann tells us, and she saw nothing odd about this at all. The class was divided between those who were falling out of their chairs laughing and those whose mouths were hanging open in astonishment.

I got to thinking about that and wondered how I could pull off the same thing. I have told my family that I think cremation may be the way for me. I suppose I could go to one of the big nursery and landscaping places around here and climb into one of their giant concrete urns to see if I like the feel of that. Of course, trying to explain how an old lady got in the urn and why might be almost as comical as what it would take to unfold me and take me back out.

Tallulah is the only widow in the group. When her husband was dying, he wanted to take part in making his own arrangements. When they went to look for plots, they were told that they could share. They would bury the first to die, at nine feet while the second would simply be buried above the first in the same plot. Since her husband was the first to be buried, she promised him that, since he was face up, she would be buried face down. Make of that what you will. We were screaming with laughter.

Years ago, I lived on a large southern farm that had the first owner’s family cemetery on it. I remember this place well as it had two big long needle pines growing inside its wrought iron fencing. We would go there before Christmas and get lovely boughs and cones for our fireplace mantel. My grandmother’s sister-in-law, Rose, had taken over upkeep years before. Rose’s home was one of the most beautifully decorated in the area as she had a good eye for color, proportion, and design. One day returning from a shopping trip, my grandmother happened to see Rose’s car and a pick-up truck parked by the cemetery. She stopped to see what was going on. There was Rose with two huge black men cleaning the grounds and rearranging the stones. Rose, you see, had been incensed for years by the randomness of the stones' placement; and she was out there moving them into a much more pleasing design. My grandmother reported to us that the two men looked at her as is to say, “She’s paying us to do this job; but frankly, this is one crazy white lady.” Those stones have never been moved back because no one had a record of who was buried where. I have to say it is one of the prettiest little cemeteries I have ever seen.

After all, of this discussion of death and burying, we went to lunch at Ginghams. We got there just as two buses were unloading folks from local nursing homes for Ginghams once monthly “Seniorpoluza.” Tallulah, whose turn it was to choose out lunch spot, had no idea that we would have to navigate a “walker maze” as Lucy Scarlet called it or that we would be trying to get the hostess to understand that we were not with the old folk’s home people. It didn’t help either that we were sitting where we could see one old gentleman slumped over his food in a nearby booth. His boney knees were sticking our of denim Bermuda shorts. He was wearing thin, beige men’s nylon dress socks pulled up to the knees paired with mustard gold loafers. There may be some things worse than dying.


  1. Anna, I really enjoyed reading this blog. As always, your writing is delightful to read--even when you talk about death and dying. --John Han

  2. One of your admirers Mindy Lawrence led me to this blog. Yes, you have a humor that's a bit south, as she says. But I think many of us do. I never laugh harder than when it's a cemetary joke. Many of the funniest movies are about dying. Noir is a genre that just keeps selling (funny or not!). I once wound up on the floor laughing hilariously after someone told a family funeral joke at my own father's funeral. My mother was not amused.

    Thanks you for this.
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Author of second edition of multi award-winning Frugal Book Promoter,

  3. Can't stop laughing. Toast me too, save the green space for my grandchildren. I do like the feel of testing your resting place. :)