After Life: His Decision and Mine

Not only did I betray my husband’s beliefs by telling my daughter his soul had done what I wanted it to do – but I also couldn’t obey his last wishes. To my credit, I asked his permission two days before he died.

Gavin was in a Hospice facility. We were just beginning to open conversations about his final wishes, although we’d had similar talks ten years before, when he’d had another health scare. It made sense to firm things up. We talked about it in “someday” terms, though the staff felt he couldn’t hold out more than a few weeks.

Honey, you’ve always said you didn’t want to be cremated, that you liked the idea of being buried in a simple pine box. You said it sounded restful.
It doesn’t really matter to me.
What about the plot in Pittsburgh… where your grandmother is. With a spot for your Mom.
I don’t have that much connection there anymore. It’s not important to me. It would be inconvenient for you.
But what do you really want?
When I die, I’m not going to be there to know about it anyway. None of this stuff matters.
Well, I remember you didn’t like the idea of being cremated…
What I would like doesn’t matter. I’m not going to be there anymore.
So how strongly do you feel about not being cremated?
Do whatever you want. It’s not important to me. (He turned away).

I know. A harpie. A nag. I couldn’t even let him alone when he was getting close to the place where everyone goes, at last, completely alone.

I didn’t want him to leave, even then.

But also. We’d checked his meager life insurance right after diagnosis. Although it was purchased when he went off to college, doubtless as a bad deal, surely from a door-to-door salesman, it was his only coverage because sometime in the next few years he was diagnosed with a heart valve defect. Small as the policy was, it was a lot for us. $16,000. The amount stuck in my mind, it was the only thing static during the two years he was ill. Enough to live half a year, maybe more without extraordinary medical bills.

I knew any funeral with a body would run $15 - $30K minimum. I hate open caskets anyway, tradition be damned. I detest paying funeral homes their professional fees and markup. Viewings with disgusting gladiola and cousins pretending to care. And none of those places or events is the right place for a 2.5 year old child. *

(Do funeral homes even offer babysitting?)

I know, I’m a wicked heartless bitch. I wanted to cremate him, and I probably would have, anyway. I cared enough to ask, even if not enough to listen.

Would he have minded that I cared more about our life after than his wishes about something he didn’t care much about? After he left, wasn’t it my primary job to be sure his child and I (and his mother – story TK) were taken care of? He’d made it clear that dead people don’t matter, but living people do.

It was a pretty minimal existence we were armoring up for, anyway. A successful regional artist does about as well, most years, as a barista. I hadn’t been working to my full potential, or even half, for a long time. When he started this hospitalization, a week earlier, I’d taken indefinite leave from work. I held the equity in our home, and a good brain.

Gavin never really took money seriously. He felt rich with me, because my job paid the same amount every year, more than he’d ever made selling paintings. When he was ill, he got angry because I found a way to get more life insurance coverage. (We never followed through). He’d refused to apply for SSDI, which we were told he’d quality for automatically, based on having a diagnosis that generally means “one year or less.” He felt his signature on the form would be admitting it.

So I thought I’d definitely cremate. Much more economical and environmental. We’d have a big service, a joyful party, a bunch of art. He wanted that and we did it. To appease him, I’d bury some of the ashes. To fulfill my vision of what’s right, I’d scatter some, somewhere important to us but not necessarily his hometown of Pittsburgh, where I’d never even been.

Marriage is all about compromise. Even when one partner is on the way out. Maybe even when one partner is gone.

* * * Comments * * *


kimgo said...

Thank you for your brave sharing.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Kim, thank you, and thanks for all the wonderful work you do with young widows and widowers on Facebook! Hope we get to meet someday in real life.

Mary said...

Thank you for sharing what you went through. Our end was slightly different since Jim did want to be cremated. It's good that I didn't have to make a decision about that; still reeling from everything that was happening, with pregnancy/new mom hormones raging, who knows WHAT we would have ended up with.

Hyla said...

It hurts me to read this, and, of course, that just means the writing is raw, vivid, and brings me that place where the layers peel back year after year.

Hyla Molander said...

Raw, engaging, makes me sit on the bench and study the clouds in those places I hesitate to visit. Erik died Suddenly, so there was never talk of the funeral. Oddly, I did have an open casket once the service was finished. It was the only way his unexpected death seemed real for me, and, as I imagined, hundreds of others who were shocked by his abduction from our lives. Then I cremated him, tossed him off the cliffside, and laughed as his ashes flew back into my face. Oh, life!


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