Last week I was looking for something in my bedside table. I don’t remember now what it was I was looking for, because when I saw the red spiral notebook at the bottom of the drawer the thought left me about what had been so important 3 seconds before.
This red spiral notebook has handwritten notes to my husband and my three children. I wrote them 9 years ago, Right around this time nine years ago, I sat outside on a lovely fall morning, dressed in my robe, my face wet with tears, sobbing for the loss I knew was coming and wrote not only these letters to them, but my wishes for, what I thought was my pending funeral.
I had been diagnosed on August 27th, 2004 with Stage IV tonsil cancer. It was Stage IV because it had spread from my right tonsil to the lymph nodes in the right side of my neck. I was so sure, in those first few days of shock, I would die, that I needed to try and get my thoughts and wishes written for my family to know, what I could not say, out loud.
I sat in the spare bedroom last week, while my youngest son, who was just 2 years old when I was diagnosed, sat in the dining room, doing his homework and read the letters I had written, those nine years ago. The letters are fairly short and a bit frantic. I WAS frantic when I wrote them and my brain was certainly short circuiting, while my thoughts jumped from child to child and what song to should play while they carried my casket to the hearse.
There are many reasons I am grateful I didn’t die. Top of the list is I’ve had all this time with so many family and friends that I love, but I am also grateful because I could not at the time come up with a good solid list of pallbearers.
I think being a pallbearer, next to the person delivering your eulogy is the most important job at a funeral. There should be love in the gesture. I don’t think people should be picked willy nilly for their strength or just because they are your grandchild or son in law (which I have neither of).
I just could not decide who I thought should do this last task for me. I understood I would be dead, and at that point it couldn’t possibly matter to me, but in that moment, as I sat there smelling “fall”, knowing winter would soon arrive, it really bothered me that I could not make a decision to write down on paper. I had names that came to me, but I could not write them down. Then I thought what if they couldn’t make it to the funeral? I have a few friends and family who live quite a distance. You seriously have to have 6 fairly strong guys to carry the weight. If one guy got stuck in traffic, would someone I didn’t really care for take his place and who would be responsible at that point to find someone? I mean would they just stop in the middle of the funeral and say, “Can we have a show of hands? Who wants to be a pallbearer right now?”
And what about the women I had thought of? All the pallbearers I have ever seen have always been men. Sometimes women or girls are listed as honorary, but they never seem to get the opportunity to grasp the handle and carry the weight.
This was something I didn’t want to trust to just anyone. For me there is and should be an intimacy of grief, not only with the deceased, but a sharing of love for the deceased that brings a common bond to these men carrying my body.
I am well, I plan to stay well, yet I once again wonder who will be my pallbearers when the time does finally arrive. Who did I love and who in turn loved me in life to share this intimacy in my death?