Not in any order…
Having very scary major surgery when I was 16. It left me w/ a fear and loathing of hospitals and doctors that linger to this day. Further experience w/ my father and mother’s ultimate death only strenghtend the resolve: I’ll die at home or in a gutter, not in a hospital.
Oh, yes, Lion–honoring my mother’s wishes and eschewing life support measures that would have preserved her physical life, and agony.
And my dad’s death (cancer, expected a a mericiful release) but more specifically his observances after death…
(Warning: the following turns high trauma into low comedy…ain’t that the way?)
Dad died and his last wishes were quite specific: no embalming, cremation w/ cardboard “casket” and my sister and I to scatter his ashes in a place in the country the at held meaning. This pissed off the “funeral director” no end: very low profit margin. So we identified “the body” 3 times in 3 days before cremation…and listened, light headed, to ominous warnings about “cremains” and “identifiable matter”.
(Note: I’m a lapsed anthro who rather excelled in human osteology. It’s one thing to zestfully identify human characteristics in bone fragments but quite another when they’re your father.)
So, sleepless, grief-ridden and throwing-up nervous, we arrive at the funeral home and are disdainfully directed to the back door. Shaking and faint, we wait until Lurch finally hands over The Box. It’s slightly larger than a shoe box, suprisingly heavy and neatly wrapped in white and silver paper.
Lurch slams the door shut. My poor sister takes one appalled look, gasps, “SHIT! They gift wrapped Daddy!” and keels over in a dead faint.
Once roused, my sister and I debate the protocols in numbed hysteria. So we put Dad in the trunk or the back seat? Somehow it all seemed totally overwhelming.
Somehow driving (badly, I’m sure) the miles to the isolated spot Dad wanted, we stop and get The Box out. Shaking like aspen in a high wind and leaning on each other like drunks, my sister and walked the long distance to the particular place.
First we tear off the gift wrap: a plain cardboard box. Inside: a charred metal ID tag and a heavy ply plastic bag w/ stuff that looks for the world like slightly crunched aquarium gravel and fine ash. Then it’s time. Swaying, w/ no wind at all, we undo the rubber band and open the bag…
And it was nothing to fear. Nothing at all. It’s just ashes, the clean, burnt remnents of what used to clothe Dad. We scattered the ashes, my sister and I, and walked back with a lot of peace and a genuine goodbye.
So that was the trauma that made sense of a lot of the rest.
Sorry. That was long, and undoubtedly self indulgent, but I’ve since buried my mother’s ashes and don’t fear my own being buried. Sometimes trauma teaches. I was really lucky in mine, and that I had my sister to walk it with me.