My granny died one year ago today. She was cremated, and then the cremains were buried, which is kind of like doing things twice and costs about twice as much. Not that anyone begrudges Granny; she had a tough life and a slow death.
Cremation is great for people who are afraid of being accidentally buried alive. My long-dead Granddad had a big fear of this and probably should have been cremated; but in 1985 Catholics still hesitated to cremate their deceased, so into the ground he went, although the medics did ransack his body for salvageable organs (just eyes, it turned out—his esophageal cancer had metastasized everywhere, disqualifying any other organs for donation).
Burial is great if you’re concerned about your dignity and the possibility that your survivors may do frivolous things with your ashes, such as use them for artwork, put them in the kids’ sandbox, or consume them in some sort of ritual. Vouchsafing your corpse into the ground is the best bet if your relatives have any whackjob tendencies, although all bets are off at the wake.
Whether Granny harbored either of these paranoias is unclear. What I imagine is that she—always one to say yes—agreed to both cremation and burial while talking deliriously to two different relations, who then compared notes and felt she’d specified both. Or who knows—maybe she did want both.
The greater point in all this is: You’d think, by opting for both cremation and burial, that you’d be doubly sure of making yourself gone after death. What no one thought of checking was whether the soul—that 28-gram essence that once untethered seems to be able to do whatever the hell it likes—had a nearby vessel to scoot into when Granny’s heart stopped beating. Did anyone notice Fluffy sitting on her dresser drawer???
This thought occurred anew last night when—promptly at midnight—something in the house went THUMP! Not a little bump like the settling of a 1980s-era house, but the sort of big-ass THUMP that makes you think your dad may have slain that garbage-scavenging raccoon and started hurling its carcass gratuitously against the outside wall of the house. But there was just one THUMP! At midnight. On the anniversary of Granny’s death.
My dad wasn’t home yet, so there was no chance he could be outside braining a raccoon. I sat up in the dark with my fur on end. Fluffy, two bears away on the couch where we’d been tucked in under a pink blanket, was evidently playing dead. I heard my mum shuffle out of bed and rustle the window blinds, then wander around investigating. Beeps on a cellphone keypad. A drowsy conversation. Then quiet.
She knew she could go back to sleep because it was just Fluffy. He may look like nothing more than one of Chuck Testa’s less successful taxidermic experiments, but he’s the vessel. He’s the vessel Granny jumped into when she died. And the two of them, bear and 71-year-old cancer victim, decided to announce themselves at midnight.
We wouldn’t have this problem if it weren’t for the scourge called cancer. First Granddad in 1985: esophagus, lymph, liver, the works. Then Granny: lungs, back, liver, lymph…riddled. Months of hopeless treatment…surgery, chemotherapy, radiation…it made them suffer. Cancer treatment sucks.
So if all these Movember staches haven’t reminded you yet, why not head over to the doctor’s office for that overdue prostate probing? If you don’t have a prostate, scooch down in the stirrups for your yearly check-up. And while you’re there, get your doctor to check any other cancer hot spots. When you get your clean bill of health you can drink a toast. And I’ll drink one with you. (I’d join you for the physical too, but I don’t have an anal cavity.)
I never knew my granddad, but I miss my granny. She was very soft-spoken and gentle, and she was the kind of person who talked to bears.
I think I hear her telling me to have some Chardonnay.