After I’m gone, I’ll be here, there, and everywhere
November 19th, 2021
(published in The Daily Memphian, November 12, 2021)
Halloween was a couple of weeks ago as was Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
The former is a spooky night and dark tradition full of mischief, and the latter is a day-and-a-half party full of celebration. I’ve been thinking about it, and it just seems to me that the Mexicans have it exactly right.
Not just one party, but three starting at midnight on November 1, Día de los Angelitos (Spirits of the Children), and the at midnight the following day, Día de los Difuntos (Spirits of the Adults), and the grand finale the next day, Día de los Muertos (Spirits of all the Dead).
Instead of being frightened by the inevitable, accept it. Instead of fearing the return of the dead as terrifying ghosts and ghouls, invite them to a party once a year in their honor and expect them to attend. Instead of somber black, bring out the bright colors and the marigolds. Bring out their pictures. Tell their stories, talk to them, cook their favorite foods. Have a parade. Dance. Sing. Have a lot if what they liked to eat and wash it all down with margaritas.
Don’t fear your dead, embrace your dead and celebrate their memories.
If you have any problems reading about dying ... not passing, or moving on, or any other euphemism ... but dying, then you might want to stop reading now. Further, if you don’t have a sense of humor about the subject, then you definitely want to stop reading now.
You see, I know I’m going to die, and like a lot of you, I’ve made plans. If anything good has come out of Covid, in my opinion, one thing is the focus on and acceptance of our mortality. People are making and updating wills. They’re figuring out the music they want at their funerals, the readings and who’ll read them. They’re reaching out and looking for old friends and long-lost relatives.
People are telling the people they love that they are, in fact, the people they love. They’re identifying and sharing the special things and events that have marked their lives. They’re realizing that our time here is fleeting and that nothing should be left unsaid, nothing left undone if it can be done.
More donuts and less almond milk are on that list.
At venerable Elmwood Cemetery – full disclosure, I’m a trustee and a big fan of the place – there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that the burial business is up, and the good news is that the plot and planning business is up, too. Covid is the reason for both. New columbaria have been installed to accommodate demand for niches for ashes.
And people are talking about it, even laughing about it. In between sets and groans of ten at the gym the other day, Sally Shy and I chuckled about cremation. She said she has so many metal parts that the family might be able to fashion a nice birdbath or garden sculpture from what’s left.
In my case, I plan to be left in several places. At the very least, I’ve asked Nora (I’m pretty sure I’m going first) to place most of my ashes in the niche we’ll share at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and some in the family plot at Elmwood.
I’m given some thought to other spots, too – maybe a little in the parking lots of Payne’s and Pete’s & Sam’s, maybe a little in Neyland Stadium, maybe a handful in the Gulf or somewhere in Italy – either end zone at Neyland, anywhere in the Gulf or Italy – but I think the serious request to put me in both Grace-St. Luke’s and Elmwood is pushing her far enough already.
When my father died in 1987, my brothers and I honored his wishes and put his ashes in the Mississippi off the stern of Ham Smythe’s boat. We further honored his wishes by taking a shot of whiskey when we did it. Jim Beam, his whiskey. Every time I cross the bridge and look north between Harbor Town and the Tallahatchie Bar, I think of Dad.
When my oldest brother Frank died three years ago, the family put his ashes in a pool below the falls of the stream behind his house in the Adirondacks. His wife Terry can hear those falls from her screened porch, the flow of their life together in the whisper of that water.
While I respect people’s right to whatever they believe, I’ll never understand the notion that coffins and a good blue suit or the best blue dress somehow increase your chances for admission to wherever you think you’re going, somehow outfitting you for eternity.
I don’t know about you, but the idea of spending eternity in the package I’m currently wrapped in holds no appeal at all, the current condition of all the moving parts holds no long-term promise.
I don’t want to be remembered in the somber tones of Anglo-Saxon Christian tradition, in silent observance of ritual or reverence. I want people to laugh out loud around a dinner table if my name comes up, or just be reminded of me from time to time and smile, or just be remembered in a story.
As I said, the Mexican idea of an invitation to a party for the dead once a year has my RSVP. Pour me one, on the rocks not frozen, salt on the rim. Just not quite yet.
My soul will be in the places I care about in this city, in the hearts of the people I’ve loved wherever they are, in moments in the lives of my children and grandchildren and their children. In that random sighting of something that stirs a memory, in something heard that resonates, in something felt that touches something deeper.
We live on in who and what we’ve touched, and make no mistake, we will be seen.
I’m a Memphian, and I’ll be around.