Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Different Relationship With Death

(Status Update: I have 50,000 words. In five days, that's more than I've ever written. I'm stopping the marathon while I'm ahead. I intend to keep writing on that story. And there's still lots of fish left. I had fun but I'm ready to stop now.)

I have weird conversations with my mom sometimes. (I know, you never would have guessed.)

Today it was about my ambition to build my own coffin. The Teacher pointed out that there's a slight problem with storing a coffin. I had a great deal of fun proving her wrong.

The point is that it's a box. A big box, but only a box. Put a lid on it and put it in front of a window and call it a window seat. Store blankets and other linens in it (and this would solve the explosion problem we have with the top shelf of our coat closet. Hmm). Put a lid on it and put it in the kids' room and it'll be a play chest, pirate ship, and space ship rolled into one. (If your kids are anything like I was, build this thing sturdy.) Take the lid off, stand it on end, and turn it into deep-shelf storage. Put wheels on it so you can wheel it around whenever you rearrange the furniture. Put rope handles on the ends or sides if wheels will mess up your carpet. Turn it into a pantry, for crying out loud! This box is going to wait for you to be ready for anything from twenty to sixty years. Make it work while it waits.

And decorate it. If it's sitting around for that long, you want it to look nice. Get a wood carving kit from Hobby Lobby and play with cut out roses and sailboats and landscape scenes. Stencil pictures on it and stain the wood around the stencil so you get pale silhouettes. Glue cheap picture frames to the side and put your family on your furniture. The possibilities are literally endless!

So, like I said, we have weird conversations sometimes. I look forward to building my coffin. It seems like it would be fun. It seems like home coffin-making would be like quilting. You put the pieces together so that it will be as sturdy as possible. You make it pretty so that people will be happy when they see it. And you make it thinking about the person you're making it for. For me, I'm not making the coffin for myself (although I will undoubtedly enjoy the process and the idea of having a coffin in my living room- hey, you could use it as a coffee table!).

I'm making it for the people who will bury me. I don't want them to spend $5,000 dollars on a box. The idea offends, especially since I've never seen $5,000. That belonged to me, anyway. I want the whole burying me process to be as smooth and painless as I can make it for them. And part of that is having the coffin ready to go. Part of that is that they will KNOW that I liked this coffin. I made it myself and then I didn't murder it for firewood the first chance I got. The whole deal of looking at tacky mahogany-and-chrome coffins that all look alike and trying to find something that the dead person would like- they won't have to do that!

(Don't get me started on my plan to live in the country and cut a piece of the land off as a designated private cemetary so that they don't have to choose a place to bury me or buy a plot. Plus, I get to design the landscaping myself. And there aren't any cemetary restrictions on what you can and can't do with the grave.)

So anyway, we were talking about coffins and stuff, and the Teacher mentioned in passing that I wouldn't want to tell people that the really cool linen chest/window seat was my coffin. I didn't understand why, so she spent the next twenty minutes trying to explain to me why knowing and acknowledging that you will die and planning for it isn't something that most people like to do or even like to know that you're doing. (Still don't totally get that one. The closest I can come is that they think they can cheat death if they don't think about it as hard and as long as they can.) She said that I would only want to tell my coffin-plan to people I knew really well- and also know me really well. (Don't you feel special?)

But she said one thing that impacted me. (Boom! Like a meteorite wiping out the dinosaurs!) "You have a different relationship with death than most people. It's been part of your life for as long as you can remember."

Which is true. I can't remember a time when there wasn't a cemetary to visit and a grave to decorate. Agonizing at the dollar store over whether or not to get a pinwheel or a windchime (you only think I'm joking- I got so tired of this conversation) is normal to me. Planning my own funeral is normal to me. Knowing that I'm going to die and that someone else will have to bury me- that's part of my life. Something that I've always understood and known and thought about.

So I just hope that my husband and future in-laws don't mind that I have a different relationship with death. Death isn't the enemy. Death is the next part of life, and something that I'm planning for so that it can be as enjoyable as possible for everyone involved. It won't go away if you ignore it. But it might be easier for your children and grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren if you have a checklist of what you want and what they need to do already arranged- and a coffin ready to go in the living room.


  1. Grandpa tried four different times (with me typing while he dictated) to leave a comment about this, and his darn computer wouldn't let him. I don't know what the deal was, but here's the comment as best as I remember it:

    "What a creative and interesting writer you are. Your great-grandmother Bassett had her funeral all planned out ahead of time. She even picked out the songs and who would sing them. Making your own coffin is an interesting idea, but don't know that I'd want it kicking around for the next 90+ years."

  2. And now here's MY comment (I couldn't post from there, either):

    I actually think that's a pretty cool idea. You should look into what the laws/restrictions are - there might be specific requirements for what's allowed.

    I think it's a good thing that you just view death as the next natural part of life and not as the enemy. Regardless of your views on the subject, it will come sooner or later, so you might as well think about it and be prepared for it! I don't mind planning, a little bit, but I'm not READY for it.