the odd side of normal

My New Year’s Eve was spent at my Mother’s house, playing cards and having dinner. My oldest sister has a massive party at her house – but my other sister and I just go to Mom’s and play cards with her and her husband and relax, enjoying a quiet evening. Partly because we don’t care for huge, loud crowds of people we barely know. But mostly because we’re never invited.This year was a bit odd. On Thanksgiving day, my mother’s twin sister died. And now, as of a few weeks ago, we all found out that my stepfather’s mother – who is 89 – is dying of cancer. My mother looks after her, having put her in a nice home only a few miles away. She drives there every day to give her mother-in-law her medicine and they take her out for trips and have her over for dinner every week and holidays. She’s frail, can’t hear a bloody thing, and shrank to about 4 foot 3 in the last several years.

She’s clueless to the fact that she has cancer, even though Mom made sure the doctor explained everything to her. And that’s fine – better to be clueless and happy, I say, at the age of 89. She thinks she’s 91.

Anywho – with all this going on lately, my sister and I were treated to a New Year’s Eve dinner conversation that went something like this:

Mom: “Well, Esther has her plot already, it’s beside her husband, but we picked out a coffin last week. It’s white with a pink lining, one level up from the cheapest, since they’re really expensive. Then we had to buy a liner.”

Me: “What’s a liner?”

Mom: “They line the grave with this metal box, then the coffin goes inside, and then the metal top is sealed over it.”

Me: “What in the hell is that for? Can you skip that bit?”

Mom: “No, it’s required now. And it’s nearly $1,000 on top of the coffin, which is $1,500. But her plot, when she bough it, was only $80.00. Can you believe that? Nowadays it would be over a grand. So her coffin has a pink lining–”

My Sister: “Hang on – did she die last night and you forgot to mention it?”

Mom: “No, she’s fine. The doctor has no idea how long she has, we’re just getting things ready.”

My Sister: “Oh.”

Mom: “She looks pretty in pink, so we went with the pink lining, and Joyce (her daughter – same name as my mother) liked the white coffin. Oh, and we’re not going to have a viewing. She isn’t going to be embalmed, which they do only for viewings, and we don’t want a viewing.”

Me: “I thought they embalmed everyone?”

Mom: “No, only if you want a viewing, because it’s a health concern. Decaying bodies and stuff. If you don’t embalm them, you can’t view them after 12 hours because they start giving off bacteria.”

My Sister: “So no embalming?”

Mom: “No. Besides it wears off after a few weeks, and you decay anyway, that’s what they told us.”

Me: “Well, ashes to ashes.”

Mom: “Oh, and Jerry can’t decide if he wants to be cremated or buried. But I’ve decided to be cremated and I want under my brother’s headstone. Jerry wants the space beside my brother.”

Me: “Well, Cindy and I want cremation, but we don’t care where we go. The back yard is fine.”

Mom: “Jerry is freaking out. He wants to be buried and he wants a headstone so everyone can come see him.”

Me: “I haven’t even visited Dad’s yet.”

Mom: “Well Jerry’s freaking out.”

Jerry: “I’m going to put your mother on the fire place.”

Mom: “You are NOT! Jerry, you’re putting me under my brother’s headstone. The girl’s father is under his father’s headstone next to his mother, who’s under it too.”

Jerry: “I’m going to put you on the fireplace, so I can talk to you.”

My Sister: “Don’t worry, Mom. If Jerry puts you on the fireplace, we’ll put Jerry IN the fireplace.”

Jerry: “I don’t want to be cremated.”

Me: “You’ll do what SHE wants, or we won’t do what YOU want.”

Mom: “Oh, and Jerry wants to be buried with Kaylee. So if the dog dies first, he wants to save her ashes. I think that’s ridiculous, but that’s what he wants.”

Me: “Okay, if the dog dies first, we’ll take Jerry out back and shoot him, then put them in the ground together.”

Mom: “Do you think the nursing home will clean her body if they find her dead, or will we have to?”

Happy New Year.

19 thoughts on “the odd side of normal

  1. Holy cripes…

    I thought our dinner conversations were weird.

    On a related, and morbid, note: you can go green with coffins now. They make coffins that are, essentially, tight-knit wicker baskets that they bury you in. They give you an RFID tag which transmits for a TON of years, and then they put you in the ground. So when you die, everything decomposes, so that you don’t wind up with an expensive coffin sitting and Not Decaying in the ground. It’s the Green way to go. The RFID tag shows up when someone with a special PDA goes by you, and it instantly displays all your information (you know, name, D.O.B., date of death, the usual stuff on a headstone) and they keep track of where you are. A lot of people, instead of having an expensive granite tombstone filling up the ground, instead just have a natural rock placed at the head of their grave. Sometimes carved, sometimes not.

    I like the idea of it a great deal more than some big damn silly coffin for me to lie around and grow smelly in.

  2. (it’s cheaper, too: I forgot to mention that. To be buried naturally in one of the Green coffins is something like 10,000 or less for the whole shebang, rather than umpty thousands of dollars for something fancier)

  3. That sounds cool. That’s one reason my sister and I went with cremation – so there’s nothing taking up ground space and oozing grossly. I’ve been told cremation is SO hot there’s no smoke released into the air. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

    Basically, once I’m outta there, I don’t much care what anyone does with my bits. But I know preplanning is just to take the stress of the survivors. But I tell ya, that was the dinner conversation from Mars !

  4. Or we could cremate her and then you get some ashes which you can pretend are hers. How old was your mother?

    She was quite young.

    Henry, I think we got an eater!

    Um, wait, are you proposing we eat my mother?

    Um, not raw, not raw, we’d cook her first.

    Well, I am feeling a bit peckish.


    Anyway, someone explain to me why you need the coffin if you’re already being put into a metal box? Can’t I just have the box? I just want the box! Wrap me in a throw and put me in the box!

  5. That’s what bugged me. Why buy a box if you’re in a coffin? And why buy a coffin if you’re in a box ! What I think I’ve figured out is – different cemeteries have different “rules”. I thought maybe it was a law or something, but it can’t be if you can do things like green burial or other stuff. So it must be a rule of this place where she bought her spot.

    I remember visiting an old cemetery in Seattle up on Capital Hill – coincidentally where Bruce Lee and his son are buried – to find my Swedish great grandparents. We had a map, and their names, but couldn’t find the headstones where they should have been. Finally we realized they’d sunk over the years, so we took the umbrella we had at the time, and used the tip to poke around in the soaking wet soil, like the ski patrol looking for an avalanche victim. Finally we hit pay dirt, and had to dig. It took an hour to dig up four headstones, but we found ’em! I told my friends I’d spent the weekend “digging up the past”.

  6. It saddens me when cemetaries let things go like that. I enjoy going into the old sections of some of our cemetaries just too look around and you’ll find some tombstones that have a tree that grew AROUND them, or they’re hidden in some bushes that didn’t used to be there, or they’ve fallen over and are covered in dirt, like yours.

    We just went this summer to the cemetary where all the greatest men in the world are buried, Joseph Schlitz, Frederick Pabst, and Valentin Blatz. Frederic Miller is buried in a different cemetary.

    This summer we went on either Memorial Day or the 4th and they had people in costume and one guy pretended to be General Billy Mitchell and talked about his life. Way cool.

  7. Yeah, where my Mother’s parents are buried, a tree grew right through them. The little headstones have even been dislodged by the tree roots. My grandparents and my dad are all sharing a space, and they’re right up next to what is now a cute little maple tree. Some day . . . Oy!

  8. We just went this summer to the cemetary where all the greatest men in the world are buried, Joseph Schlitz, Frederick Pabst, and Valentin Blatz. Frederic Miller is buried in a different cemetary.

    This summer we went on either Memorial Day or the 4th and they had people in costume and one guy pretended to be General Billy Mitchell and talked about his life. Way cool.

    Right. And just like that, you’ve given me a short story idea that I need to go write.

  9. Nope. That’s not it at all. I’ll send it to you guys, whenever I write it (whihc may not be for awhile. I’m in a CONTEST, you GUYS)

  10. The “liner” is a “vault” where I’m from. It’s to prevent contaminants (your decaying corpse) from leaching into the ground water and killing the rest of the town. Way back before they thought of such things, they sometimes would situate cemeteries upriver from towns. The bodies would decay, things would get into the water supply, and next thing you know….

    Nine years ago, cemetery plots were only something like $500 here. I think. Also, the cost of the coffin usually includes the funeral home’s services. Again, that’s my experience anyway.

    Anyway… What’s for dinner tonight?

  11. Hmmm, I have the ashes of various dead pets in pretty boxes with their names on them. I’m waiting until I die and then they can bury my critters with me. Except for the horses of course. They have their own headstones cause they are so big. There are special cemetaries that let you do this and yes my husband thinks I’m nuts, but he tolerates this nuttiness because he knows how I feel. I don’t do this for all pets, just certain special ones like the cat I had for fifteen years and the dog I had for thirteen years.

    I have a friend who has urns with ashes on her mantel. Shes got two dogs, a cat and a dead husband up over the fireplace. She says it’s starting to get crowded up there.

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