A few months ago, I planned my funeral.
While I am a planner – an over-planner, really – this didn’t have anything to do with getting ahead or being prepared. This was a necessity. Last year, I found myself facing the very real possibility of a life-threatening illness. Before I had to get on the table for a median sternotomy to remove a [then mystery] tumor, my husband and I sat down to for an extremely difficult discussion.
What did I want to happen? It was so hard to think about; I wasn’t ready. I had family and children to think about – graduations, marriages, grandkids, so much to see. I didn’t want to think about the end of it all at twenty-nine years old. But I did, because it had to be done.
If something went wrong, I wanted to be given some time for the chance of recovery, but didn’t want to be kept alive just to avoid the inevitable. It would be a difficult decision for my husband, but I knew he felt the same way I did.
I didn’t want a viewing unless my parents requested it – I find them creepy. I wanted to wear my favorite dress with the red sash. I wanted a few hymns, but mainly calm, folksy music (think Mumford and Sons). I did not want any kind of photograph slideshow. I wanted Dougie MacLean’s The Gael and bagpipes (not necessarily the real things). No, we aren’t Scottish. I guess I just have a flair for the dramatic.
I didn’t have a preference over burial or cremation. I have an irrational phobia of closed caskets – either way I was going to have to go in the box, so I was flexible. Really, who isn’t at that point? I didn’t want to end up on a shelf somewhere though, so we decided on spreading or burying the ashes if he went with cremation. Somewhere pretty was my only request – I don’t really have strong feelings about any particular place. I’ve always been largely unattached to my physical surroundings.
I wanted to write letters to my children, but I couldn’t get myself together to do it. Instead, I bought a recordable book of The Night Before Christmas. Recording that was a hard evening. It was something so simple, something people do every single day, but for me it represented a life where my children grew up forgetting my face, my perfume, my laugh. It represented what would be left of me.
I asked my sister [both only children, we chose each other] to do all of the fun girly things with my children if I couldn’t do them myself. My husband and I discussed insurance plans, finances, passwords. I made an appointment to get my hair dyed – no reason to meet my maker with my roots showing. I made jokes about the situation [see: hair dye]. It was all very practical.
We held hands. We hugged. I cried. I’ve never felt that kind of fear.
I came through ok. The surgery was major, but uncomplicated, and the tumor was benign. In the end, I didn’t need any of my plans. It changed me though. I will never again be that person I was before the diagnosis. I’m learning to work with the new me now – trying to find a balance between living life to the fullest and avoiding unnecessary risk. I don’t think anyone would ever describe me as fun-loving, but I try to be easy and frivolous. I try to love every single day.