One of the questions I inevitably have to ask as a hospice chaplain is about the memorial service. Have you thought about your service? What kind of service do you want? It's fascinating to me, how many people have never put any thought into this, even though we are all going to die. We spend months, sometimes years! planning a wedding in unimaginable detail: the song for the first dance, color of the napkins, line-ups for the photographer, shoes for the bridesmaids. We get our hair and make-up done, we take dance lessons. We spend thousands of dollars on flowers and thousands more on food, all for a few hours' celebration of something that may or may not last. The divorce rate fluctuates over time, but it's still pretty clear: a lot of marriages end. You can, however, count on death. It is going to happen, and, as far as we can tell, it's a permanent condition.
Why, then, don't we spend more time talking about what kind of celebration we want when we die? Sure, we probably don't get to be there, but maybe we do ... we don't really know, right? And even if we can't attend, it's still a really nice thought that all of the people we care about have the chance to get together and say nice things about us. Who doesn't want that? So while party favors and a photo booth probably aren't the order of the day, it's still not a terrible idea to start talking about what you want to happen when you die. I promise you that talking about death isn't going to hasten death, and that not talking about death isn't going to make it go away.
It will happen, at some point. Why not plan the party now?
Some of the people who know me already know some of what I want: I want to be cremated, with half of my ashes placed in fireworks and shot off at the fabulous party you're all going to have; the other half scattered from the Sensation chairlift at Stowe. Also, if you know what I mean by The Grotto in the Saratoga State Park, please sneak a handful of the ashes into your pocket and toss me into the woods there. I will thank you for it when I see you, at some point.
I have decided, in the aftermath of three deaths this past week and two the preceding week, to lay out the rest of the plans, just so everyone is on the same page.
The aforementioned fabulous party should take place in the spring in a nice field. I have always imagined it happening in my former backyard in Charlotte, now my former husband, Richard's, backyard. I have a feeling he'll be OK with this because Richard loves a good party and he's an easy-going guy. Also, he may take some pleasure in pulling the fireworks lever.
I love the idea of exploding in technicolor high over Lake Champlain.
Note: Richard, don't forget to let my other former husband, Scott, pull the lever a few times. Or light the fuse or whatever the heck you do to set off fireworks. Ask Sean Russell; he puts on a great display every July.
Music: if Jonathon Richman is alive and available, I'd like him to come and sing a few songs, especially New England, I'm a Little Dinosaur and That Summer Feeling.
Well when your friends are in town and they’ve got time for you
When you were never hanging around and they don’t ignore you
When you say what you will and they still adore you
Is that not appealing, it’s that summer feeling.
What's not to love? That summer feeling. I'll miss it when I'm dead. I think.
Other music: there's an old traditional called One Morning in May. Please play that if you know how to play the fiddle — maybe Kristin? Peace Piece by Bill Evans. Make sure everyone is quiet during this. Otherwise, lots of noise. Ripple, of course: If I knew the way, I would take you home. One hymn: Be Thou My Vision.
And I would like a rousing rendition of When We Finally Come Home, by Brett Hughes.
I would like my teacher friends to create a Sensory Station, where you can smell the things I loved to smell: boxwood, rosemary, bacon, coffee beans, leather, pinon wood; touch the things I loved to touch: velvet, Nate's curly hair (sorry Nate!), sand; and hear the sounds I loved: the crack of a bat, the whistle of a train, the crackle of the needle placed on a record. GG and Little, you're in charge of this. Also, this might be pushing it, but I loved it when the librarian stamped the card in the back of the book. I loved that whole process: the taking-out of the card, the stamping, the putting-back of the card into the pocket. Actually, for a while there was a stamping machine that made a great sound. Maybe you could set up a little make-shift library, Ellen?
I also loved the sounds that the round keys made on the cash register at the grocery store when we were kids. The click, click, click.
I would say a kissing booth because I love kissing, but I don't want any faked stuff. Just kiss a lot and hug, too. Republicans, find a Democrat and hug them. Say you're sorry to someone; tell someone they're beautiful. Tell someone they mean a lot to you. Everyone should leave the night's festivities holding someone's hand.
You can all drink without guilt or fear again once I'm gone, so there should be plenty of booze. When I drank I loved Guinness and rum and cabernet. I loved the dark drinks, the ones that tasted like they were scraped off the forest floor. Drink them from pewter mugs, if possible.
Though I am scared of the ocean, I dearly love all the edibles she provides, so foodie friends please: oysters, clam chowder, lobster, mussels. Dig some pits and have a clam bake. The more opportunities for fire at this gig, the better.
And there should be jello salad. Because I find jello salad to be hilarious. I don't care what you put in it, just please make sure it's on the table. And Lauren, please make that magical salad of yours, with the dressing first at the bottom and the huge wooden bowl. It's a work of art.
Pie. It goes without saying.
Candy cigarettes for all the children. Kristin Baker, please hand these out.
Joanna, you're in charge of spin art. Sarah Martin Banse please choose a couple of passages from Shakespeare. Make people act them out if you're feeling bossy. Polly, an O'Donohue blessing please and Sam and Nate you are more than welcome to tell everyone the truth of how I was always changing my mind, always trying ridiculous new things and always running late. Tommy, dredge up all the good childhood stories you can muster. I'm especially fond of the ones having to do with explosive things, burning things, cutting the hair off dolls and Mom washing out mouths out with soap for swearing. Tell them all. Finally, the very oldest person there must read Stages by Hermann Hesse.
I was told once by an intuitive person in Montreal that this is my last lifetime. Well thank God for that, I thought, living is exhausting!
"What does that mean?" I asked him, "what comes next?"
"You're going to be an archangel," he replied, and since then I have imagined myself with enormous wings, fwoop fwoop fwooping high over the hills, looking out for the babies and the young lovers, checking in on the widows and the worried teenagers. It's a lot to look forward to; I'm excited about what the future holds, and I thank you all in advance for being a part of the celebration when I die. I have one final favor to ask: please, whatever you do, do not call it a celebration of life. My whole life has been a celebration of life; by the time I'm done with this body that will have ended.
Please, call it rightly: A Celebration of the Death of Melissa Ann Catherine O'Brien. Thank you and Amen!