Tuesday, November 6, 2012
The other day, as I ran through our village cemetery, I wondered how many folks jog by their graves while in perfect health. I’m thinking not a lot.
Let me explain: I do, but only because the family plot is just around the corner from our house. (“Just around the corner” is countryspeak for ’bout a mile, maybe less.)
It’s a semi-private cemetery; how you get in has never been explained to me, but dying is a prerequisite. My husband Widdle bought six plots shortly after we married. (Yes, the timing made me a little uneasy.)
The cemetery itself is beautiful. Leading to it is a shady, quarter-mile asphalt lane lined with thick stands of pine, birch and maple. The entrance is flanked by curved, stately yellow-brick walls. The asphalt ends and is replaced by a worn dirt path circling dozens of gravestones. Standing sentinel between family plots are moss-draped oaks, pecan and holly trees. Headstones range from modest to huge, simple to elaborate. Some graves boast obelisks and granite borders. The oldest burial site dates from 1856.
There are benches—made of marble, granite and wood—and floral displays. Carved into tombstones are angels, Masonic emblems and hearts. On one particular monument, the entrance to a beloved plantation is depicted in black marble.
We’ve buried two loved ones in our family plot in the past 18 months. Sometimes, when I pass their resting places, I stop and chat for a few minutes. Around their graves, wildflowers bloom, birds sing and squirrels scamper everywhere. It’s a peaceful, welcoming place. I just don’t want to be welcomed there anytime soon.
I don’t fear death, but I do fear dying. I used to worry about dying young, but now I’m old enough for that to be off the table. So now I worry about croaking before I accomplish certain goals. Oh, who am I kidding? The only thing on my bucket list is “swim with dolphins,” which I could do next Tuesday if Widdle would drive.
The truth is I’m terrified of dying. It seems, from what I’ve witnessed, not an easy thing to do. (FYI: Despite a degree in English and a passion for the written word, the only poem I’ve ever memorized was A.E. Housman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young.” Morbid, much?)
Still, the big dirt nap comes to us all eventually, so we (I) might as well accept it.
Speaking of dirt naps, I didn’t plan to be buried. I always thought that—after donating every viable organ-- I’d be cremated and scattered in the mountains of my beloved North Carolina. Or flung into the ocean from the far reaches of Johnnie Mercer’s Pier on Wrightsville Beach.
I even envisioned my madcap brother, T-Bob, packing a little jar of my cremains in his suitcase when he takes one of his around-the-world trips. I’ve always wanted to see Rome; he could put me on the table, make a discreet toast and eat some bruschetta in my honor.
As I said, cremation is what I always imagined. The reality has turned out to be somewhat different.
I’ll never forget the first conversation Widdle and I had about “our final arrangements.”
Me: “I want to be cremated.”
And that, as they say, was that.
Widdle is horrified at the thought of his beloved wife consigned to the flames. I am equally horrified by the cost of contemporary funerals. I don’t know how we’re going to work this one out.
Hopefully, we’ll have a few decades to debate it.
Julie R. Smith, who’s already cremated two dogs, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.