September 03, 2008
In my time of dying
My sister e-mailed me the other day to inform me that one of our uncles had died. He passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was my dad’s sister’s husband. They lived in a nearby suburb and I remember many holidays spent visiting them or vice-versa. Although we were not very close, I remember him well as a very kind man with a good humor about him. He was 84, just a couple of years older than my dad, and so his death is yet another signal that I should be prepared for my parents to go at anytime. That will be sad but I don’t expect it will be very hard, especially in the case of my Alzheimer’s-ravaged mom.
Relationships with my extended family have been fairly tepid if not totally non-existent. Some aunts, uncles and cousins I have not seen since I was a child and would not recognize them on the street, while some others I may get to visit on trips back to the stomping grounds if time permits, though it usually does not.
Since I have lived in the south I have had occasion to witness some contrasts in family dynamics, particularly with regard to death. The ancestry of my midwestern clan is Scandinavian, hence rather stoic and often bland, whereas much of the native southerners (which includes my wife) are descended from the more jovial Scots-Irish. And boy can you tell it from the funerals. In both regions the grief of the immediate family of the deceased is kept fairly private, but a brave face is soon put on amongst southerners because, well, there’s some celebrating to do.
Out of financial and scheduling necessity, I won’t be returning for my uncle’s funeral this week. I imagine it will be a tame affair with baleful hymns and rice pudding. By contrast, when my wife’s father died recently, and also when a family matriarch of her mom’s side of the family passed away last week, relatives from all over the lower 48 poured in. And when all the funereal business was complete, it was family reunion time. Barbeque, beer, bourbon - we’re not talking frat party here, though alcohol consumption is generally robust. But the fellowship is one of happiness and remembrance, and I for one think it ought to be so.
When my time comes, hopefully from natural causes at a ridiculously advanced age, I will expect my survivors, descendants and friends to gather one last time in happy memory of me. Drink some and laugh a lot. The only tears I want at my after party are ones of laughter from stories like how grampa got arrested those few times or lost all bladder control during a particular concert experience. Hopefully there won’t be too many sour glares from the lutefisk crowd at the other end of the room.
Of course, if you kick off in the fall, we can have a big ass fire and not roast ourselves...
You know, there is actually a book called "How to Host a Southern Funeral" or something like that. I'll study up as we reach those advanced ages. After your first old man arrest, I'll get to reading.
Sometimes, it's just better nor to ruminate over it. A festive wake is more of what I would like. No a weepin' and a wailin', please. Just a quiet toast " may he be a half an hour in heaven afore' th' divil knows e's dead".
And I want everyone drunk.
And all the boys who really secretly loved me a little to say it out loud.
And very loud music.
And a bouncer.
And my tombstone to read...
"She was fantastic".