Tag

Death

Planning for the End of It All

I’m at a conference this week in Washington DC, so I’m reposting some old favorites from the beginning of my blog. I’ll be back with fresh content next week and – in the meantime – keep up with me on Instagram to see highlights of my trip.

This post originally appeared on my blog on April 6, 2013.

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.

On My Bookshelf

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roachspook

From Amazon.com:If author Mary Roach was a college professor, she’d have a zero drop-out rate. That’s because when Roach tackles a subject. . . she charges forth with such zeal, humor, and ingenuity that her students (er, readers) feel like they’re witnessing the most interesting thing on Earth. Who the heck would skip that? As Roach informs us in her introduction, “This is a book for people who would like very much to believe in a soul and in an afterlife for it to hang around in, but who have trouble accepting these things on faith. It’s a giggly, random, utterly earthbound assault on our most ponderous unanswered question.” Talk about truth in advertising.

Great. Mary Roach is probably one of my favorite authors of the moment. I love nonfiction and I love humor – Spook links those two together perfectly. From mediums to the weight of your soul, this book explains the intersection of science and the afterlife over the years. Roach explains what we have studied, believed, etc. An excellent read.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roachbonk

From Publishers Weekly via Amazon.com: Roach is not like other science writers. She doesn’t write about genes or black holes or Schrödinger’s cat. Instead, she ventures out to the fringes of science, where the oddballs ponder how cadavers decay and whether you can weigh a person’s soul. Now she explores the sexiest subject of all: sex, and such questions as, what is an orgasm? How is it possible for paraplegics to have them? What does woman want, and can a man give it to her if her clitoris is too far from her vagina? At times the narrative feels insubstantial and digressive (how much do you need to know about inseminating sows?), but Roach’s ever-present eye and ear for the absurd and her loopy sense of humor make her a delectable guide through this unesteemed scientific outback. The payoff comes with subjects like female orgasm (yes, it’s complicated), and characters like Ahmed Shafik, who defies Cairo’s religious repressiveness to conduct his sex research.

Are you sensing a theme? I loved Stiff and Spook, so why not move on to Bonk? As Roach explains (on page 14), “This book is a tribute to the men and women who dared. Who, to this day, endure ignorance, closed minds, righteousness, and prudery. Their lives are not easy. But their cocktail parties are the best.”

Planning for the end of it all

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.