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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 2.10.18
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Death goals

"What do you want to do," I asked Deb, "when you die?"

It's a funny way to phrase it, I admit. It's not like she's going to have a packed itinerary. No sightseeing tours, no dinner with friends. Bowling is out the question.

I meant what does she want us to do with her when she dies -- eventually; don't worry.

It's a legitimate question. Deb turns... a certain age this year, and I'm a couple of years ahead of her. We're healthy, but we might as well start planning while we can, even though right now we couldn't pay for a funeral to save our life.

"I don't want to be buried," Deb answered. "Cremation."

"But what about your ashes? What do you want us to do with them?"

"It depends on the kids. They might want a place where they can visit us."

Deb's a municipal councillor now, and she likes to walk the local trail. I suggested spreading her ashes along the path during a particularly icy day, which would simultaneously honour her memory and make a civic contribution. Tribute and traction.

"Do you want a service? Visitation?"

"No visitation," she said. "All those people standing around... Have a party. Or a potluck. Rent a hall or something."

"I want a parade," I said.

"Okay."

Easy for her to say. I'll be dead. For all I know, she could bury me lying on my stomach so that, at least in the afterlife, I'll finally stop snoring. She could sneak my ashes into a construction site, mix them into the cement, and next thing I know I'm a Domino's Restaurant. (Rest in pizza.) She could bury me in the back yard along with the pets (a cat, two hamsters and counting), which actually isn't outside the realm of possibility.

I won't have a say in the matter. Nor should I really. Funerals and burials aren't for the dead. They're for the living, a way for them to manage their grief, say goodbye, get free casseroles. That's why it gets under my skin (decomposition joke) when someone says, "Alfred would have loved this," or, "It's what Alfred would have wanted." What Alfred really would have wanted, probably, was to still be alive.

Deb and I were walking while we were having this conversation, one of those crazy long walks she likes. (Her funeral procession will be a 10K hike; "Debbie would have loved this.")

"What about you?" she asked. "Do you want to be cremated?"

"I think so, yeah," I said. "But what would you do with me after that? I don't want to be on a shelf. I don't want to be clutter." We have enough clutter. And the thing with clutter is you stop noticing it after a while, and then one day you wind up in a yard sale for 50 cents.

"I can bury you in the park and build a statue of you," Deb suggested.

"Cool. Can you enhance the statue? Know what I mean? ‘Enhance'?"

"Maybe I'll make it really tall so the kids can swing on you." Always thinking about her community that wife of mine. (Re-elect Debbie Bishop 2021.)

The conversation continued at home, circling back to consulting our children on the matter, or in this case, child.

"It's up to you," Abby said. "You're the one in the ground. Or how about we throw your body in the sea."

"Let's go on a cruise and try it out," said Deb. "But do it on the way back so at least we get our money's worth."

The discussion eventually led to a contemplation with Abby on the very nature of death, whether there's an afterlife or whether all that awaits us is the black void of final, unfathomable nothingness.

"I want to come back as an eagle!" she said.

We may laugh in the shadows but there's no getting over the fact that it's death, the last thing anyone wants to deal with, except perhaps insurance. "I don't want to think about this anymore," Abby said. "You're not going to die for like another 20 years." I'm grateful she's at least allotted me my threescore and ten.

We ended up no further ahead. No solid plans made, no novelty urns ordered, no singalongs selected. ("Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" by The Flaming Lips?) We'll have to get real about it at some point. But I do know one thing right now: no selfies with the corpse. It's what I will have would have wanted.

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