My sister and I have a death pact.
Susan has vowed that, should I predecease her, she will not allow the funeral cosmetologist to put me in blue eye shadow. Every makeup artist in my makeover history has wanted to streak my eyes in shades ranging from cerulean to indigo. Hello, I’m not Molly Ringwald, my life is not “Pretty in Pink,” and it’s not 1986. More importantly, blue eye shadow looks unbelievably awful on me –truly horrendous– and I don’t want that to be the last memory people have of me.
Should Susan predecease me, I am assigned the job of wailer. Since this edict comes from my dramatic sister, the one who should have a comedy show just for being herself, this is not to be your run-of-the-mill lament. No, I have strict instructions to wail mournfully throughout the service and at a volume that requires the preacher to shout to be heard. At the graveside, just as her casket is being lowered into the ground, I am to hurl myself onto her eternal resting place with a cry of anguish. (I secretly hope to outlive her just so I can grant her wish.)
Of course, this heart-wrenching scene will be meaningless without an audience to talk about it for years to come, and after attending a funeral together last week, we hit upon a strategy to attract people to her funeral.
“You’d have to give away free pizza to get this many people at my funeral,” Susan observed of the standing-room only church, her tone rife with self-pity.
“Should I add serving pizza to my to-do list for when you die?” I asked. The offer brightened her mood considerably, and we agreed this would be our ticket to ensuring a big crowd of mourners at her funeral.
Susan has specific ideas about the pizza she would like to be served at her funeral. Pepperoni, of course, because it’s a crowd pleaser. Cheese for the finicky. Meat-lovers because it’s her personal favorite. And one without sauce for her husband Mike. Which got me wondering: would Mike only attend his wife’s funeral if he could have sauceless pizza?
I seem to be the go-to person in my family for meeting post-death desires. My brother asked me to write his obituary. I’m honored he asked me but also very surprised. Doesn’t he know I have a lot to say about him, much of which he probably doesn’t want the world to know? I did, after all, have several years when he went away to college to snoop around his bedroom.
My mother asked me to write and deliver her eulogy around a theme she calls “The Four G’s.” The four most important things in her life are God, grandchildren, garage sales and gardening. Mama, bless her heart, has been talking about her funeral for years. I think it’s because she is surrounded by older friends who have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
With everyone in the family giving me instructions, I feared my sister Connie had a request she had not shared. So I asked her at our last family dinner what she wanted me to do for her. Without hesitating even a millisecond, the sister 13 years my senior answered, “Die before me.”
Even my six-year-old daughter, it seems, has ideas about my death. Overhearing my husband and me discuss my desire to be cremated –a decision I made recently when I realized it solved my blue eye shadow fears– Isabella asked me what cremation is. I explained it the best I could, telling her it’s when someone chooses to have her body burned into ash instead of put into the ground. With a solemn face, Isabella reassured me.
“Don’t worry, Mommy,” she said. “I’ll burn you in the fire.”
Please, Lord, let her wait until I’m dead.