It’s a curious thing.
I don’t mean to sound macabre but I’m feeling a bit philosophical and whimsical.
If it’s possible to feel whimsical about things of such a heavy nature.
I’ve had a fair bit of death in my life, and as time passes I’m able to look back on some of it and even giggle.
Of course, most of the time there isn’t very much that’s funny about death at all. Unless you’re reading the Darwin Awards.
Most of the time death is a vicious, sad, horrible and frighteningly inevitable part of life. which means, that on the odd occasion when something is funny about death, I have to seize it and run like a cheetah for all I’m worth.
Laughing in the face of fear is often the only weapon we have to combat it.
Sometimes I wonder if I have a sensitivity chip missing, or if I’m trying to protect myself with humor.
And I think, no, perhaps I’m just a little more twisted than even I give myself credit for.
And I think it’s genetic.
Throughout my life, and his, my old man would joke about how he wanted to be preserved upon his death, a death that occurred in a most untimely fashion a few short years ago in 2001.
He wanted to be stuffed.
With an erection.
And used as a coat rack.
I could probably end this story right here but unfortunately there’s much, much more.
Obviously we, his devastated survivors, failed to comply with his wishes. Nor did we bother honoring his alternative desire, cremation, either. I’m not sure why we ended up burying him, but in retrospect I figure that once he was dead we thought he kind of gave up the right to having any involvement in the decision making process.
“Screw him!” We probably thought. “If he’s going to bugger off and die then he doesn’t bloody deserve to get cremated!” or something along those lines.
Revenge of the Living.
And so he’s buried in a beautiful little cemetery in a forest, surrounded by old gold miners and towering trees, with a bottle of Scottish malt and about seventeen joints to keep him occupied.
Seventeen is not nearly enough.
When my father died I needed to say goodbye in my own way.
I spent time with his body and held his cold hands. I stroked his beard and cried a lot. I spoke to him in whispers and wails. I begged and pleaded and asked him questions he’d never have answered in life, let alone death.
And then I painted his nails.
Silver glitter, if you must know.
For old times sake.
It was an overdue apology for asking him to refrain from decorating himself in this manner when I was small.
At the funeral I gave everybody a jar of gold stars to throw down upon him in lieu of Aotearoa’s cold and wintry earth.
We sent him off in a shower of golden rain from above. It was beautiful. And a bit kitsch. And I think he’d have hated it. But that wasn’t his prerogative either anymore, was it?
Dad left behind many a legacy, the least of which was a collection of plastic yogurt pots containing the cremated remains of our family pets.
All of them.
Three dogs and countless cats.
My dead pets are still lurking on a shelf in south central New Zealand.
Waiting for me.
When he was alive my Dad always wanted to find a good use for them, something artistic, something natural. He’d been mulling over the idea of breaking out the old kiln and firing up some pots so he could use the ashes to make glazes, but I was mortified at this suggestion and used my only-daughter routine to shut it down.
And so they sit there still.
And I have no idea what to do about it at all.
My somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards death comes from both sides of my family.
Several Christmases ago I was appalled to open a gift in front of my entire family and discover it was a beautifully wrapped box containing the ashes of my recently deceased companion of twenty years, Baby, my cat who had died while I was overseas traveling.
“Gee. Thanks Mum.” NOT.
For some reason every single family member had also decided to give me a token to memorialize her- a photo, a card, a bit of her hair.
It was quite possibly the most inappropriate and awful Christmas of my life, and I behaved accordingly. It sucked. The intentions were pure, the reaction… nyeh.
Baby’s around here somewhere too.
And I have no bloody idea what to do with her either.
When my grandmother Ainslee died several years ago her funeral service and it’s rather earnest, morose vibe was ruined completely when my cousin Guy took matters into his own hands with regards to the coffin.
As the pallbearers were sliding Ainslee’s boxed remains onto the rollers that gently glide coffins into waiting hearses, young Guy put his hands on the end of the box, yelled “Bye bye Nana!” and gave an almighty shove.
There was quite a racket.
It wasn’t pretty.
Guy proudly smacked his hands together, as if to clean them, and looked mighty pleased with himself. It was a job well done.
It’s hard to get back to concentrated mourning after a scene like that.
I think about death a lot, I guess.
For a few years I was depressed and wanted very much to die.
But not anymore.
Now I’m glad to be alive, and thankful.
But I still think about it and what it means and where we go and if I even care.
I don’t have any answers, and I barely have questions, but I do know this- it’s something I want to experience without fear.
I’d like to be cognizant through my own death, to accept it, to be at peace.
But I suppose that’s a lot to ask for.
I’d also like to be remembered with humor and honesty, much as my old man was at his wake.
“Jeez the old bugger was a bloody bastard.” Someone muttered into his tenth pint of beer. The very same someone who’d traveled halfway across the world to be present at that funny, forlorn little service in a pine forest in the middle of nowhere.
I smiled and sipped my own beer, nodding my head in agreement. It was true. He was a bloody bastard sometimes. But he was a bloody funny, honest, human, loving bastard too, and he was mine.
Here’s to you daddy. I’m awfully sorry about the damn coat rack not panning out for you, but the neighbors would’ve had a fit, and honestly? I’d’ve had to have kept a blanket over your head to preserve my own sanity.
See you on the other side, and save a joint for me, if you can bear it?