Within the last year, Bethany and I have had some encounters with death through various friends’ family members dying and more recently, Bethany’s grandma passing away. Our dear friend Andrea and her family faced a daunting task with the death of her grandpa because his death was rather sudden, and he hadn’t made any end of life plans. This left Andrea and her family with the responsibility of trying to plan his funeral and arrange his affairs in a way that would have pleased him.
In typical Andrea fashion, she swore that she would not leave her husband and family in such a situation if her time on this earth ended unexpectedly. She swiftly flew into action and began arranging her end of life affairs. She drew up a will ensuring that her dogs would be cared for if she and her husband died, and Bethany and I received the honor of being second in line to inherit the pups. (I was a little bit hurt that we weren’t first in line, but then I remembered the week that we took care of her very energetic 11 month old golden retriever, and I decided I was okay not being first in line). Andrea even went as far as making a powerpoint of pictures, picking out music, and planning an order of service for her memorial.
All of Andrea’s preparation got me thinking about what I want to happen if I die suddenly. I also council all of my patients who I admit into the hospital to have adequate end of life planning, so I figured I should probably have some too. I didn’t want to go overboard, but I sat down one night and told Bethany what I want if I die.
I want my body to be donated to science, so budding medical students can use my earthly body to learn anatomy. When it’s all done, I want to be cremated and for my ashes to be scattered somewhere nice. I don’t really care where they’re scattered. I told Bethany to plan a nice vacation to the Caribbean with her best friend, Amanda, and take some time in between the drinking to sprinkle my ashes into the ocean. For my funeral, I really don’t want an open casket. I just think there is something odd about having my corpse dressed up and covered in makeup, so people can walk by and look at it. I know studies have been done showing that seeing the dead body can help the family have a sense of closure, but I just don’t want to be remembered as a powdered and preserved hunk of flesh. I want people to remember me as vivacious and full of life.
I also have some specific requests for my memorial. I don’t want a somber viewing in a dark funeral parlor with sprays of carnations and mauve curtains. Bethany knows I hate carnations, and funeral parlors are super depressing. If a party is being thrown in my honor, it’s just poor taste to hold it in a place that fosters such a solemn mood.
I want a cocktail party with lots of wine and cheese and hours de vourres. Now, I don’t want this to cost Bethany a lot of money, so it would be nice if my friends all brought a bottle of their favorite wine and shared it with everyone in my memory. There also needs to be good music. I know I won’t be there, but if a group of people is gathering together because of me, I don’t want them to be forced to listen to whatever depressing CD the funeral director keeps in his stereo. I’ll leave the final choices up to Bethany or whoever she turfs the job to, but I hope people will be serenaded by Joni Mitchell, Over the Rhine, Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkle, Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap, and the Civil Wars. Alright—maybe the music will be depressing, but at least it will be good music!
After my old friends have had a chance to catch up, mingle, and share some wine and cheese, I want a simple worship service celebrating our life in Christ. I want someone with a guitar to lead the attendees in some good praise and worship songs. I don’t really care which ones as long as “I’ll Fly Away” and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” are included. I want either my best friend, Jon Erik, or his wife Katie to give a simple sermon about how short our time on earth is but how vast our eternity with God will be if we accept Him. There doesn’t have to be an official altar call, but I want the gospel presented in a clear and beautiful way. I hope when I die I will have lived a life that will have been an example for Christ, and I want the people who attend my funeral to know that Christ was the most important thing to me.
At some point, I want the song “Be Still My Soul” to be played for Bethany and my family to remind them that while I’m gone, they don’t have to be sad. The same God who called me home is there to comfort them and allow them to keep living life to the fullest. Immediately after that I want a funny song that seems inappropriate to be played at a funeral to make people laugh. I don’t care what it is. Maybe “What Does the Fox Say?” or “Short People” by Randy Newman. I want people to be caught off guard and for the crying mourners to be so distracted that they forget to be sad. It would also be nice if it’s something that will embarrass my Mom a little bit and make her shake her head and blush.
Then I told Bethany that after the funeral is over, and she’s mourned for a little while, I want her to think about dating again. Especially if I die when I’m young, I want her to get remarried. I always want her to hold my memory close to her heart, but I never want to think that my death will cause her spirit to die too. I hope she’ll find love again and get remarried and keep living her life to the fullest. That’s my wish for her.
As I was communicating my desires to Bethany, she just kept getting more and more quiet. Finally looked up at me and whispered,
I looked at her confused and slightly offended. Why didn’t she want to know my plans for when I’m gone? In a sheepish voice she whispered,
“I don’t want to think about you dying. I don’t want to think about ever being with someone else. Does this mean you’d get remarried if I died?”
At this point I felt like a soldier standing at the edge of a field littered with land mines. There were many paths I could take to get to the other side of this conversation, but one wrong step, and this all could blow up in my face.
I looked deep in to my wife’s eyes as she peered up at me like a wounded baby bird, and I contemplated how honest I was going to be. Suddenly I pulled up my bootstraps and decided to charge forward.
“Bethany, if you die young, I’ll mourn for a little while, and I’ll be sad, but I probably will get remarried. It only makes sense. “
The conversation went on for a while longer and she kept getting quiet and looking hurt, but I figured I should be honest with her.
I kind of forgot about the conversation until a couple weeks later when Bethany was late coming home from work. I called and texted, but there was no response. I called and texted a few more times. Still nothing.
In my head I knew everything was fine. She probably had to work late and left her phone on vibrate in her purse; but in my heart I kept imagining ominous scenarios about a pickup truck with a big, hairy, drunk driver who came flying around a corner and slammed into Bethany’s little Honda Civic. She is so cute and small that she was immediately killed on impact, and her purse was thrown from the car and hanging in a nearby tree, so the police arriving on the scene didn’t know who to call. The car exploded soon after the collision due to a leak in the gas tank, and there wasn’t even a way to trace the car back to me. When she still wasn’t home later that night, I would try to call the police to report a missing person, but they would kindly tell me that she wasn’t officially a missing person until she’d been gone for 24 hours. Then they would question my marriage and ask if there was a reason why my wife would want to leave and not tell me where was. Was there a problem with our marriage? Could she no longer take all the emotional abuse? The operator would then snicker and sarcastically say, “Good luck” before hanging up on me. I watch a lot of TV shows that are very realistic, so I obviously know exactly how all of this works.
This whole scenario was formed and solidified in my mind in about 15 seconds, and just as I was grabbing my keys to drive around and look for her, I saw her little Honda Civic pull into the driveway. Tears immediately welled up in my eyes, and I realized what my life would be like if I lost Bethany. I was no longer a rational man planning my funeral and considering the likelihood of a widowed thirty year old getting remarried. I was a man whose world had just stopped. The person who I’d centered my entire world around was gone, and I couldn’t breathe. It’s not just that I couldn’t breathe, but I couldn’t find a reason to breath. I no longer had a reason to finish residency. I no longer had a reason to wake up in the morning. For a moment, there was no reason to not pull the bottle of gin out of my refrigerator and start chugging it just to dull some of the pain.
Moments later Bethany walked in the door covered in sweat and breathing heavily. She was home late because she went running. As I stared at this glistening, rare figure of beauty in a yellow halter top and purple mesh shorts, she gazed back at me and saw a tall, skinny, disaster with tears welling up in his eyes gripping a bottle of gin. I’ll admit, this wasn’t one of my prouder moments. I briefly described the turmoil she’d put me through, and she laughed and shook her head as she pulled off her shoes and headed to the shower.
Now, after all this craziness, I finally see things from Bethany’s perspective. I’m a guy who can (sometimes) compartmentalize my thoughts and feelings, but if she thinks about death or funerals or remarriage, all she wants to do is reach for the bottle of gin.
Thankfully, we’re both healthy and in love. We have Jesus and each other, and we’re happy with that. Now, Bethany tries to do better at letting me know when she’ll be home late from work, and the bottle of gin only gets pulled out for those weekend nights when we have a hankering for gin and tonics.