The mood at the gathering was a bit solemn – but then it was a funeral. Still, it really was no more somber than my workplace. I actually saw more happy faces there than I do at work (a sad fact … but another story altogether.) Technically, this was a memorial service and not a funeral. The deceased was an organ donor who had opted for cremation over burial. Socially and environmentally laudable choices in my opinion, and I admire the man for them.
Happy faces at sendoffs are more common than you might think. Many of the guests, including me, weren’t really close to the departed, but were close to someone who was. We don’t grieve the loss so much as we do the impact on people we care for. It’s an indirect, once-removed grief.
Another thing about these gatherings, they are packed with people that I like a lot, but see too little. We’re all out of our element, on equal footing and everyone is open, receptive and less distracted. There’s a lot of catching up to do, and it really can be a pleasant affair. Several times I had to remind myself to put on my funeral face.
The minister helped with that. The guy must have been an old-school fundamentalist; one of those who believe that faith should hurt. He leaned over the pulpit, glared through bushy eyebrows, and shook his Bible at us. He called us all sinners and threatened us with damnation (that part, in fact, was a lot like work.)
I hung with him for ten or fifteen minutes and then my thoughts went for a walk. They headed for the hereafter and got close, but stopped just short. Earlier that day, at the visitation, I overheard a conversation about exorbitant funeral costs, specifically the cost of urns for the ashes. Up to a thousand dollars!
That’s where my mind stopped, to think of alternatives. The widow had declined to stuff the coffers of some corporate death firm – another decision I admire and endorse. But what to do with the ashes? Inspiration struck – I couldn’t wait to spring it on my wife. You’d think that I’d know better by now.
Later that evening (I think it was over dinner) I went for it.
“Honey, when I go, I want to be cremated, but I want to get someone to make me a vase … instead of just buying one from the funeral home.”
She thought about it and shrugged. “Makes sense I guess, you can decide what you want, and if you don’t like it, you can always change your mind.” She really likes that concept – picking something out and then changing your mind.
“No, you don’t understand. I want someone to make me … a vase. I want to be the vase.”
It was a truly elegant solution. I can remain functional in death. She returned the expected response, so I took the idea to work. My co-workers were enthusiastic, and even offered some variations on the theme. One suggested semiconductors. After all, micro-chips and transistors are ceramic devices. You jolt them and they change state. Hmmm … no, too much like this life. Another suggested porcelain, of the ‘big white bowl’ variety. He pointed out that, if at my wake, some of the guests had too much to drink, they might come and hug me. Not a bad sentiment, but other porcelain bowl imagery is less attractive.
Time for a little research. I started surfing and soon found a list of practical uses for ceramics. Something caught my eye – bone china. One formula actually calls for two parts bone ash and one part kaolin. It is a short hop from china to wine goblets or beer steins. Not exactly immortality, but ceramics do last a very long time. Plus, I get to continue participating in one of my favorite pass-times.
So my plan is set, I’ll be a set – of drink-ware. I just need to find somebody that will take care of it when the time comes. For friends or relatives reading this, I’d be eternally grateful for any help. And if any of you find yourself at my wake, and someone asks you to raise a glass to me, please be careful – just in case.