I have to admit that, as an accomplished expert in denying reality, I did not support my own mother in this effort almost two decades ago. She was perfectly fine. She was not going anywhere. She couldn't possibly die; I needed her. How dare she even mention the word funeral? SHUT UP! I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT! I WON'T TALK ABOUT IT!
She insisted that I would one day thank her, insisted too that I join her for a chat with the local funeral director who was making the rounds at her nursing home. I finally agreed, wanting to make sure he didn't pull a fast one on her. So one autumn afternoon, the three of us sat at a little round table in what was then called the South Day Room. They chatted happily as they pored over catalogs of caskets together; I remained bitterly silent and watchful throughout the whole ordeal and, when they were through, made a mad dash for home and a good long cry.
HOW COULD SHE HAVE PUT ME THROUGH THAT HORRIFIC HOUR? HOW COULD SHE BE SO HATEFUL?
As it turned out, she was as right about this as she had been about everything else we'd ever disagreed on. When the time came -- when she actually did the unthinkable and died on me -- I didn't have to make a single decision about her funeral beyond agreeing on the date and time. She had taken care of everything.
What a gift it was, to be free to grieve, free to launch my inquiry into the possibility that she still existed somewhere out there.
In the end, preplanning her funeral turned out to be the second kindest thing my mom ever did for me.
But she also did something even more wonderful for me, something of eternal proportions. And that was telling me again and again, throughout our lives together, where I would find her once she departed this world.
That, in fact, is the kindest thing any of us can do for our loved ones: To conduct the research, to determine once and for all where we will be spending eternity, and to let them know exactly how to find us.
It's probably best to tell them while we're still alive and kicking, so we can answer all their questions about our final destination, such as how they themselves can get there. But it never hurts to leave them a note.
My mother did both, and I am eternally grateful -- to her, for making the effort, and to our Creator, for giving me the kind of mom I couldn't bear to lose for all eternity.