Category Archives: growing up and/or old

I miss it less and less

I was brought up Catholic, and got married in a Catholic church, even though Frank and I were both at serious odds with our own lingering beliefs in any sort of god.  He’s since declared himself agnostic, and I generally think of myself as a secular humanist, but I am also comfortable with the atheist label.

Luckily, our paths to this point have been pretty smooth.  Nobody in our family is particularly knock-down crazy religious, so while we got a couple eyebrow raises because we didn’t baptize our kids, there weren’t any damnations or disownings or anything like that. 

There are things I really miss about organized religion.  I love the sense of community that a church provides, and I love the formal sense of ceremony of a mass.  These two relatively minor things were actually my greatest personal stumbling block with disavowing my Catholicism and all the teaching of Cathol (anyone?).  But as religion has figured less and less into my life, I can’t really understand why I was so attached to it.  Familiarity, perhaps… the same reason why some people travel the world and still only eat at McDonald’s.

But, there’s the other side of the coin.  The sex abuse scandals.  The “we’ll take our social services away if you legalize gay marriage” threats (because that’s what Jesus would do!).  The extortion of socially liberal Catholic politicians with the denial of Communion.  And that’s just the Catholic church. 

Yes, I know they do good things, too.  But the bad things… the domineering, bullying, hurtful, hateful bad things, they sure make me happy I can say I have nothing to do with them anymore.

Green in the hereafter

Yesterday’s post also ties in nicely to another point about death planning I’ve been contemplating.  Many people are all about trying to be more green these days — recycling, driving hybrids, reducing one’s carbon footprint.  I do what I can, when I can, though I am no saint and surely could be doing more.  I touched yesterday on the ooginess I feel about embalming and being buried and how I’m not really down with all those chemicals.  Lo and behold, I just came across this CNN article that talks about the same topic.

I first became aware of the idea of green funerals watching the show Six Feet Under.  One of the characters dies, and her husband opts to bury her in green cemetary, where the bodies are interred without being embalmed and only wrapped in a gauzy shroud.  He dug the hole himself and placed her, and filled it in.  There was no marker for her grave, and I’m fuzzy if I’m getting this from the show or elsewhere but I think the only way he knew where she was buried was by GPS coordinates.  (And of course there was a whole other subplot around this, where the husband tricked the wife’s family into believing she was cremated, but he gave them the ashes of someone else.  Being he was a funeral director himself he had access to a cache of cremains never picked up by the families.  It was an odd, but riveting show.  Give it a gander sometime if you are into that sort of thing.)

Anyway, the CNN article quoted some eye-opening statistics about the resources ‘consumed’ by the death industry and buried in the ground.  Enough metal each year to build a Golden Gate Bridge!  Enough concrete to build a highway, each year, from New York City to Detroit!  Egads.  And that’s on top of the tons of toxic embalming chemicals that leech into the ground from decaying bodies and burned into the atmosphere through cremation.  It really gave me pause, and definitely reinforced my own minimalist desires for the disposal of my used-up body.

I hope for anyone reading these last two posts, you’ll take a couple things away from this:

1) Be open, as soon as possible, for what you wish for your body when you die, with whoever might be charged with that decision.  Include it in your will, even (though in a will only, it could be too late for the immediate arrangements that need to be made upon your death – it’s simply not adequate to ONLY have this information in your will).  You never ever know when those wishes might suddenly become relevant.  It may seem like a macabre and weird thing to discuss with your spouse or children or parents.  But for them, knowing your wishes and that they are following them will lift their burden and ease their stress, even just a little, at an otherwise very burdensome and stressful time in their lives.  You’re doing it for yourself, but you’re doing it for them, too.  I am so glad my mom shared those wishes with us, even if I rolled my eyes at her when she’d do it.

2) Research and consider greener funeral alternatives.  Your desire to leave the Earth a better place for your children shouldn’t stop with your last breath.  Try to make your last major imprint on the world in keeping with the way you lived, as much as you can tolerate from both a personal and religious perspective.

No, it *is* my mother

I’ve always planned to be cremated when I die.  I’m not keen on the idea of blowing thousands of dollars on a fancy box so I can sit in the ground and decompose and be eaten by mold and bugs and worms.  I’m also pretty certain I don’t even want my body to be embalmed.  I started leaning toward this decision when I’d read that the practice of embalming started, in part, to ensure a person was dead before they are laid to rest.  The idea of using toxic chemicals to pickle my body just seems… wrong.  And then, because I want my body cremated, I can only surmise the toxic chemicals that would be released when cremating a body filled with formaldehyde and the other fun stuff they use for embalming.

The initial appeal of cremation probably came from hearing my mom talk about it.  She’d shared similar opinions about cremation, and I’m sure it had a large influence on my own opinion.  She would say to me and my brother, Mark, that she never wanted to be buried, she just wanted to be cremated and spread someplace beautiful, on top of a mountain, perhaps.  I’m so grateful she was open with these thoughts, because when she died unexpectedly at 47 years old it certainly made many of those decisions that come with death easier for us.  There were some small hurdles, as it goes:  my dad had known about her wishes to be cremated but had forgotten or never heard about the “spread somewhere beautiful” part and almost got sucked into buying a cemetary plot by the funeral director.  And then, once her body was cremated, there was a bit of family dissention about what to do with the cremains.  My mom’s dad, who had never heard any of my mom’s wishes from her, really really fought the idea of spreading her ashes.  He wanted to inter the ashes so he’d have someplace to visit her.  My dad had never specifically heard my mom mention the idea of spreading her ashes, so he wasn’t sure which side to take but was willing to support whatever my brother and I wanted to do.  And my brother and I, still being mostly kids ourselves, had a hard time really saying no to our grandpa.  So, it sadly took us awhile to deal with the issue, as we offered compromise after compromise and since none of them fit the exact idea my grandpa had, they were handily rejected.

Finally, about four years after mom died, we decided it was unfair to everyone and disrespectful to my mom to do anything but what she’d specifically wished for.  We realized there wasn’t going to be a solution that pleased everyone so we sought a solution that would be most pleasing to the most important person – Mom.  Since she loved the Adirondacks, where my grandparents lived, and where we spent many vacations, and where Frank and I decided to have our wedding a couple years earlier, and since she’d even mentioned the idea of a mountaintop, that’s what we went with.  My aunt Carolyn, mom’s half-sister, who also lives in the Adirondacks, came up with a couple ideas for places to spread the ashes, and we decided on Mt. Baker, near Saranac Lake.  The view from the top is lovely, and an added bonus is that it’s not a particularly difficult climb.

So four years after she passed away we made a family trek up the mountain — my dad, my brother, Frank and I, my aunt & uncle, another uncle, and a bunch of cousins —  and we spread her ashes on and over an outcropping of rock that serves as the peak’s overlook point.  One unexpected benefit of having waited so long was that the hike was much more upbeat than it might have been years earlier.  We laughed and made jokes and fondly remembered my mom amongst ourselves in a much lighter mood than we could have mustered closer to her death. The “LifeGem” concept had just been in the news, and we spoofed about having Mom’s ashes made into a diamond, which I could wear and show people and tell them, “It’s my mother.”  And they’d say, “It *was* your mother’s?” and I’d reply “No, it *is* my mother!”  We milked that joke for all it was worth.  My brother got the honor of wearing the backpack up the mountain that held mom’s cremains, which were in a plastic box.  He kept whining that Mom was poking him, and it was funny.  My mom was really sweet and nice when she was alive, and living in a house with me and my brother and dad, who are sarcastic teasers, she was often the innocent target of our sardonic humor.  Poor thing, she couldn’t even escape it in death.

The whole experience, while mostly fondly remembered and satisfying, did leave me with the regret that we didn’t stand up to my grandpa sooner.  Mom’s ashes waited too long to be properly ‘interred’ and I hate that they waited so long in an impersonal little box all that time.  I’m not the type of person who feels much regret about anything.   I’m not a worrier by nature: I think worry is fear that future events will turn out poorly, and regret is like a projection of that fear on something that’s already happened.  I tend to be fairly immune to both, so that I do feel true regret in regards to this incident  stands out pretty significantly.  I can probably count on one hand other things I feel a twinge of regret about, but I’m not sure given the chance I’d change anything about those other things, because to change them could potentially change the whole outcome of my life to date, and I like where my life is right now.  But spreading Mom’s ashes sooner, exactly to her wishes, I can’t see how that would wreak havoc on my current existence, and I’d be more proud of keeping to her specific wishes and doing so in a timely fashion.

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This post is part of Kate‘s weekly blog post theme.  This week’s is “regret”.  I’ll update this with the links of other people who are participating, or if you can’t wait, hop over to Kate’s blog and follow the links from there, as she’ll definitely have them before I do.

Moral conundrum

I believe I had shared earlier that there was a possibility my brother might come live with us for awhile.  Well, it has come to pass!  He secured himself a full-time job only a few minutes from our house, and he starts in three weeks!  So he’s moving down here in two weeks, and we are all excited.

He’ll be staying in the spare bedroom we have on our lower level, which has an adjoining full bathroom.  Comfy enough, I think, for cheap digs.  We still need to paint the room before he moves in; it is in SORE need of a coat of paint.

I have a leftover can of off-white and was going to use that.

But my brother just called me a loser in a message board.

I am tempted to exact revenge a la paint color.  Pink perhaps?  Chartreuse?  Neon orange?  A dingy, depressing gray?

Alas, I am too cheap to spend $30 on a new gallon of paint for such a purpose, so he will get his off-white anyway.

The fact that he’s calling me a loser and that I’m contemplating revenge for it shows we often act like bratty little kids with each other, rather than the grown-ups we are.  That’s one thing I am worried about with him living here, that we will end up being stupid and jerky with each other.  Hopefully we can both make a conscious effort to act like adults and avoid the name-calling and shouting matches that have occasionally plagued our ‘adult’ interactions.  I theorize it’s because I haven’t lived at home since going away to college and we don’t really have much practice being adults together, so when a little conflict arises we both revert to how we acted ten, fifteen years ago.

Trekkin’ around the state

It’s been a whirlwind few days!

As I mentioned previously, Lane went to Buffalo on Monday.  My dad was here visiting for one night with his fiancee from Sunday to Monday, and as they were preparing to leave, Lane started saying she REALLLLY wanted to go to Buffalo with Grandpa Jerry.  Well, he’s retired, and she wouldn’t miss anything more than a few days of preschool and a dance class.  So she went.  By all reports they had a blast.  Tuesday was an off weather day in Buffalo so they hung out at home and watched movies, and Wednesday they went to the Buffalo Zoo.  (I am happy to report no polar bears died while they were visiting.)

Then, Jake and I drove up there on Wednesday afternoon and got there about 9:00 p.m.  Thursday was general hanging-out-with-relatives, and my dad took Jake to see choo-choos (my dad used to work on the railroad).

I also had a very sweet, very frank conversation with my brother about life stuff and relationship stuff of which I will not violate his confidence by divulging the details here, but it make my heart sigh, in that good way.  He’s a good egg who just needs to sort out his priorities a little and really realize he’s more grown-up and mature than he gives himself credit for.

Then, Friday, the kids and I headed for the Albany area, where we visited with my friend Amanda and her new, perfect little baby, and where Frank rendez-vous’ed with us.  We stayed there last night, and then went to my friend Cari’s daughter’s first birthday party, where we also saw other friends we hadn’t seen in awhile, being caught up in the whole moving-into-our-house-and-getting-it-spiffied-up whirlwind, as we are.  But there are tentative plans to get together with the other friends in the next couple weeks, and for Amanda to visit at some point in November, so we’re getting caught up, socially, which feels good.

And now we are home, and I’m sitting on my own couch, and I’m relishing that we don’t have to travel anywhere until Christmas (unless we choose to do so otherwise, before then).  Not that we won’t be busy – we have a dining room that needs wallpaper stripped and a coat of the “tomato bisque” paint I bought before Thanksgiving, among a couple other rooms that need painting.  But after our last two busy weekends… bring on the paint.  🙂

Gimpy

The kids and I were outside with Bailey yesterday.  She’s an energetic dog, and thus occasionally in the out-of-doors (and luckily, very rarely in the in-of-doors, since she is not a small dog) likes to go on a mad tear.  This basically involves running in a circle or back-and-forth as fast as her legs will carry her for about 20 seconds.  Then she’s good.

Yesterday, she got just a little too exuberant, and hurt one of her back legs.  I’m waiting it out right now, because even though she wouldn’t bear weight on it right after it happened which was a little scary, she was much more willing and seemingly able to bear weight after a minute or two.  She’s still favoring it a bit but seems to be OK.

In dog years, she’s now about 42.  Since I’m on the cusp of middle age, I can sympathize with her.  It’s hard to give up those youthful days when you could do whatever you wanted to your body and have it give you barely any negative feedback.  Oh Bailey, those days are gone for both of us, I think.  Now is the time of warming up and stretching, of pacing ourselves, of going to bed a little earlier, of rethinking that third glass of wine.  (OK, maybe Bailey isn’t drinking much wine these days.)  It’s sort of funny, once you know better, your body isn’t up to the challenge anymore.