By Judie Schaal

The other day I was meandering down the Personal Growth aisle in one of those huge, all encompassing book stores. I was searching for a book that would help a friend of mine deal with the passing of a loved one. After gazing at title after title, on shelf after shelf, I realized that there are a multitude of authors writing books encouraging all of us to change our lives for the better. Three titles that jumped out at me were Five Good Minutes, Ten Days To Self Esteem, and Change Your Life In Thirty Days. Five minutes, ten or thirty days? These writers must be good! My flaws didn’t appear over night, so I’m not sure I could eliminate them in a month.

However, as much as I enjoyed thumbing through all the self-help books, they were not what I was searching for. In contrast, the publications which gave comfort to those dealing with the aftermath of a loved one’s death were few and far between. I selected one, but, then I wondered if there was a book that would help an individual deal with her own mortality. The only one I found was, What Dying People Want. However, it dealt mostly with how to alleviate pain, deliver truth and deal with memories.

It seemed very peculiar to me that no one had written a book addressing how the healthy person should consider meeting their Maker. Instead, we seem to avoid that topic like the plague (no pun intended). Not one of us gets out of this world alive, so maybe we should think more about preparing for our trip into the next world.

A friend of ours left the banking business to enter the occupation of selling funeral plots. I wasn’t sure if this was an upward move or a descent, but decided on the latter as shovels most often dig downward. He approached my husband and me about making a purchase. I flippantly informed him that I didn’t need a plot as I planned to be cremated. His response was that maybe we should ask our children what they preferred as they would be the ones left behind.

Gingerly I broached the subject with our daughter. There was a long silence. Finally, without looking at me, she said, “Plot…and don’t talk to me about this again.” End of conversation.

But instead of “laying this topic to rest,” I decided it was time to make some preparations for the end. First, my husband and I bought some long term health care insurance. This, we decided, would “insure” we would not be a burden to those “left behind.” I have a friend who now resides in a health care facility that would rival a five star hotel. Elegant decor, gourmet prepared meals, personal trainers, chauffeured trips to enlightening activities, etc. etc. That lifestyle sounds better and better to me as each day goes by.

Picturing myself in those attractive surroundings, I decided that as my health failed, I’d like to remain looking good. So, it was off to a skin care center. I decided a face lift was not for me, but permanent makeup might be the answer. The tattooing of my eyes was quick and almost painless, and now I’m assured that I will look awake and perky as I’m being spoon fed in my wheel chair. I can hear the other residents conferring, “Why she just doesn’t look old enough to be over a hundred!”

Thinking about looking good made me realize that I have never seen someone in their 80s or 90s who is overweight. Maybe I’ll step up my exercise and step down my eating!

I was about to call and make reservations for our eventual stay in a retirement home, when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that my home had dishes in the sink, newspapers on the floor and shoes kicked off by the sofa. All of a sudden, I heard my mother’s voice in my ear, “Don’t forget to wear clean underwear when you go out…you may end up in a hospital.” Does that preparedness now apply to me in this stage of my life? If I never make it home, do I want others to see the mess in which I live? I think I’ll stick to the clean underwear.

Next, my thoughts turned to my obituary. Should it ramble on, naming every one of my forty-seven brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, parents, in-laws, outlaws, employers, neighbors, pets, and the many many significant others? Should it include a picture? With my new permanent make-up, that might not be so bad. How ‘bout including that the deceased has no fear of hell as hot flashes have prepared her for that possibility? No, that might be going too far.

My funeral must be planned. Should I make a list of every detail as a relative of mine once did? No, it should be a free wheeling party with laughter, dancing and high fives. But what if none of those forty-seven acquaintances come? I can hear the minister’s voice now as it echoes off the vacant pews. “She was a pillar of preparedness who looked good to her dying day.” Maybe I should include the name of my tattoo artist in my obituary.

I once had a friend who had a cantankerous grandmother who lived in the same house with her family. My friend loved her grandmother because she appreciated her frankness. But most of the family was pleasant to her only because they knew she had invested wisely and was wealthy beyond belief. As she grew older and began to lose her hearing, the family members were not so careful to keep their negative comments to themselves. Unknown to them she bought a tiny hearing aid which she inserted and, each day, as she rocked in her rocking chair, she listened and, one by one, methodically eliminated them from her will. I think I might get a hearing aid.

So, on that fateful day, when I am finally lowered into my casket, I hope some of those forty-seven friends and relatives will be around to party after the funeral and to know that I was prepared…maybe I had improved the look of my eyes, but I did nothing to eliminate the deep, deep smile lines around my mouth.

About this writer

  • Judie Schaal Judie Schaal lives in Murrells Inlet with Gary, her husband of 50 years. She has written for On The Green magazine, the Sun News as a tennis columnist and is currently copy editor and photographer of a local color 28 page newsletter.

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