“When I die, I want -”
Woah woah woah.
Hold the phone, mom.
Let’s talk about the fact that we’re celebrating your birthday, and you just said the words “When I die.”
She kept talking, of course, because I didn’t actually interrupt her.
That being said, I didn’t necessarily keep listening, though I did hear something about how she’s been thinking, something about wanting to be cremated, something about ashes over the Sound.
Today is her actual birthday. I won’t tell you how old she is,
because it’s not right to reveal your mother’s age, not unless you have a
I don’t have a death wish.
And even if I did, it’s not my birthday, which means that I’m not the one blowing out the candles, which means that I don’t get to make a wish. Not even a death wish.
“I figure I’m entering the final third of my life,” my mom said, before she got to that whole “When I die” deal. I wanted to protest, “How do you know you haven’t already entered the final third of your life? How do you know that you’ll live that long? Or maybe you haven’t even reached the halfway point!”
I did protest, a little bit. It was more of a sit-in than a rally.
My dad doesn’t drink that often. At least he doesn’t do it around me.
But he had something or other. Probably other.
And he’s usually pretty talkative, and he usually rubs the bony part of my shoulder, but something about the way he talked and shoulder-rubbed in the midst of this conversation led me to believe that he wasn’t entirely himself.
“You know, Katie, over the summer, mom said something to me. And she got very philosophical –
(At this point, my mother raised her eyebrows, as if to say, “It’s unusual for me to be philosophical?” To which I my dad and I might say, “Yeah, it is.”)
– and do you know what she said? She said, ‘David, when I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes spread over the Sound. And if you live longer than I do –
(At this point, the three of us reached the consensus that this was improbable, but not impossible.)
– then I want you to scatter them. And if you don’t outlive me…well…’ And then, do you know what I said? I said, ‘Stephie, you have two daughters who can do it if I can’t.’ And do you know what she said to me?”
(At this point, she took over.)
“I said, ‘I want Katie to do it.'”
And it felt like the Earth opened up, or like I’ve been dead for years and just realized it now, or like I was in the middle of a movie (not watching one, in one, the scene being shot as we spoke), or like I was the butt of a practical joke (haha butt!), or like I suddenly understood everything that’s ever happened and is happening and will happen.
And it felt fucking weird.
And I was looking straight ahead, partly because I didn’t think that any of it was actually real, but mostly because, by this point, both of them were rubbing the bony parts of my shoulders (my dad on the left, my mom on the right) and smiling and saying “You’ll do it, won’t you, Katie?”
And then my mom started laughing. Hard.
“David, after the week she’s had, can you believe we’re telling her all of this? What timing! After all that she’s been through! And we’re talking about death!”
You don’t have to know what I’ve been through this week.
I don’t have a problem talking about it. It’s just not what I want to talk about right now. Here’s what I want to talk about:
I never heard my mom say the words “When I die” until last night.
It’s a subject that has always been smothered in euphemism.
The eventual and inevitable death of my parents has little in common with, let’s say, my sexual orientation, or, let’s say, the fact that my mom is the only remaining Catholic in our family. Unless we’re actually discussing any of those things, in which case it is safe to say that those three topics are treated the exact same way, marinated in a saccharine glaze of delicate language for which I’ve lost a taste over the years. That being said, to hear her actually speak of her own death with such bluntness was refreshing, startling, and terrifying.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that, at least not in front of me, mom.”
“‘When I die.'”
“I probably haven’t.”
“And maybe it was for my sake, and Jessica’s, you know, like you didn’t want us to hear about it, right?”
“Well – ”
“But it was also for your own sake, right?”
(I was ninety-nine percent sure that I’d only thought that last comment, but, as far as I know, my mom isn’t telepathic – yet – so I guess I spoke it aloud.)
“Yes. It was.”
I don’t think I’ll ever know if I need my parents more than they need me or if it’s the other way around. I don’t think I’m supposed to know, and I don’t think it’s even possible to know. Our need for people, and our need for them in all of their various capacities, is, like everything else, subject to constant change, permanent impermanence.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that I don’t want to go out of this world as a typical person.”
“Why wait until then to be atypical?”
“You’re right. Katie?”
“I swear, if you don’t see to it that [I really don’t remember what she said here], I’ll come back to haunt you.”
“You already haunt me, mom, and you’re not even dead yet.”
And then my mom started laughing. Hard.