I am no stranger to death. I remember vividly going to more than one funeral with my mom, as a child, because she made it a point to expose us early so we wouldn't be overwhelmed when someone close to us died. I remember staring in awe at a tiny baby that was stillborn and looked to my five-year-old self like the most precious porcelain doll. I remember sitting in a pew while church members talked about their aged family member that passed on. I remember thinking these things were normal because I had been to so many.
The first time I remember losing someone close to me was when I was the tender age of four. My mother's mom passed away and I remember sitting on the stairs of my childhood home, scrunching up tissues and tossing them aside because others around me were crying and I thought I should be too, but nothing would come out. My grandma was amazing, but sadly I only have two memories of her; I remember he making the world's best hot chocolate and forgetting to put in her teeth once when she handed me my cup. I vaguely remember her funeral, but life didn't seem much different since I was so young so her death didn't impact me much.
Since then, I have been to dozens of funerals. I have sat next to friends as they buried a parent. I have sobbed with others dear friends as they have lost more than one child. I have sang at the funeral of a friend that died of cancer. I have been to funerals for suicides. I have been to a funeral where parents buried their adult child far before their time. I have watched from a pew as a friend became a widower. And I have sat next to my own siblings as we buried my father when I was still a teenager.
Since I was a child I have thought deeply and often about death. I have heard about this phenomena from other youngest children, I think that is the first natural thought when you learn about death and you are the youngest. All the sudden you realize that you will most likely have to see all of your family die before you and it freaks you out. Luckily for me, I have a much different take on this concept now than when I was a kid.
This past week a dear dear friend of mine passed away and I realized how much I love the concept of being a person that is left behind that has the opportunity to pay respects. LaVerne was a one in a million lady, she moved into my neighborhood when I was 7 and quickly became part of my family. I was constantly at her house all through my childhood, chatting with her in her gorgeous living room, gardening, or rummaging through her things to find the hidden treasures like the Mud Book: how to make pies and cakes. She loved to ask me about my love life so I even had my senior Prom date pick me up at her house. For years she would ask me about my date--who she referred to only as Scumptious--and was so disappointed when she found out he married someone else (even though I alway assured her we were only friends). I think I am most sad that I will never be able to introduce her to my husband. I know she had such high hopes that I would find someone worthy of her and my family and I am sad that I never got the chance to hear what she had to say about them.
Being able to post photos of LaVerne and kind words makes me realize the good parts of death. The parts where people who have lived long enough or have suffered long enough get to go home to the ones they loved that left years ago. It ends their pain while still allowing me to keep my favorite memories. I have realized this same reaction with my Dad. I knew my whole life that it was a miracle I ever had him in my life since he really should have died in the plane accident that paralyzed him in 1989 and so it was bittersweet when he finally did pass away. I knew that he had suffered 18 years longer than he should have and now it my place to tell the world all the reasons why he was amazing. Though I am obviously not looking forward to all the funerals that I have in my future, I do love the part where only kind things are said and the praise is endless. So, if you are one of my siblings and are reading this, I hereby promise to make your funeral witty, touching, and show everyone all the reasons why I'm glad you were around to raise me (because, let's be honest, you did raise me).
And now of course I feel like I should say something about my funeral. For the record, there are things that I want when I die and since I am in no way afraid of death or find it odd to talk about, here are my demands:
First of all, I do not want a church funeral. I want a party. I want a celebration that has food and laughing and music and lots of photos. I want people to tell the embarrassing stories and the sweet ones. I want people to be happy and love each other. I also want an accounting of the people who have received packages, letters or cards from me because well, I just want to know that number because it has to be impressively large.
I want my hair to be cut off and donated--let's be honest--it is one of my best assets and there is no reason it should go to the grave with me. I also want to be buried in my most boring dress because the rest of my clothes will be divvied out to my sisters first, my nieces second, and then my friends. Same goes for shoes, actually--just send me to the grave without any. But do make sure I have a nice manicure and pedicure, preferable some bright color. I also do not want to embalmed so I guess have my party without me present or keep in a freezer until its go time. And lastly, buy the cheapest casket there is or have my brothers make a pine box, I am sure they have enough carpentry skills between the three of them to accomplish that.
As for my possessions, I will hopefully write up a will and leave it with my stash of one dollar bills. If you find a blank piece of paper in there, know now that it is my will written in lemon juice and you have to hold it over a flame to have it appear. As for my money, all cash and investments will go into a family account to fund Camp Aaron reunions. Anything that isn't specified is free game for all of you to fight over.
I have seen a lot of death the last few years and I wish I could have a break. Have a break from feeling sad for my friends or the pain when I lose someone. But I am also okay with death, I am okay with knowing that everything has to end. I think being okay with it makes me want to keep sending those cards and packages so that people know I cared about them the whole time.
Death shall not destroy my comfort,
Christ shall guide me thro' the gloom;
Down he'll send some heav'nly convoy,
To escort my spirit home.
Oh, hallelujah! How I Love my Savior,
Oh, hallelujah! That I Do.
Oh, Hallelujah! How I love my Savior!
Mourners, you may love him too.
Jordan's stream shall not o'erflow me,
While my Savior's by my side;
Canaan, Canaan lies before me!
Soon I'll cross the swelling tide.
See the happy spirits waiting,
On the banks beyond the stream!
Sweet responses still repeating,
"Jesus! Jesus!" is their theme.
(the arrangement of this song my Mack Wilberg has always been one of my favorites, it is incredibly powerful and you should all listen to it)