“How come you wanted to burn Daddy instead of putting him in one of those boxes?”
I should have seen this coming. Because when she tells you to lay down and cuddle up an important conversation is tucked just below the covers. But this? Halloween is long forgotten, and with it the annual reminder it brings. We’re in the throes of pre-Christmas fever, watching Jim Carrey cavort in Grinchy fashion, drafts three and four of the annual letter to Santa are well underway, and she’s pulled out the boxes to start decking the walls of her room.
Burned or boxed.
This is not what mothers and daughters curl up together to talk about. Or at least it’s not supposed to be. And I really wish we didn’t. But sometimes we do, because death is a part of life and it’s very much a part of our life. We don’t wallow in it, and we aren’t defined by it. But we have been shaped by it and we refuse to hide from it. We talk about it in the way that memories are spoken about.
There is no manual for death. There are certain conventions one generally follows, religious or not. There are personal preferences. There are family preferences. And then there are the things that are not in the rulebook. This is one of those things, and unless you pre-plan your own post-mortem, what remains is a powder keg of emotions over … the remains.
He could not stomach the idea of being perched on a shelf in some type of vessel that was completely and utterly unlike who he was. He made me promise that he would never be on a shelf somewhere. To this day it is a source of frustration and failure that part of him is sitting on in memoriam in exactly the way he didn’t want. In turn, I made him promise me that no body would enter the ground. EVER.
The body isn’t just a vessel for life. After death, the body becomes a symbol of what has been lost. My deeply rooted childhood fear of putting a body in the ground was at war with the need to protect the life-sized memory of the father. Choreographing his return to particulate form was an emotional battle I stood alone in.
Honor the promise. Protect the memory.
Regrets are rarely erased and when goodbyes are eternal, you live with how you dealt with death.
My daughter has always had this uncanny ability to delve deeper than you want her to in areas you don’t want her to. We talk frankly and openly, from her irritation that I have not brought home a suitable male specimen to the soft heart that weeps quickly and openly at the slightest slight.
“You want the honest truth?”
“Because we will never have to think of Daddy’s body as any other way than how we remember him to be.”
Or because your Dad told you a story when you were seven about a little kid being buried alive and listening to the worms coming to get him so that you are now leery of a) worms, b) burial and c) anything your Dad says.