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Non-fiction

Don’t Call Me Late

Marvin and his doggie friend, Skeeter. I will miss them both.

Marvin wasn’t ever late. He seemed to grumble more than ever at the notion of lateness. Maybe it was his Air Force training, who knows.

I went to Marvin’s funeral today.

This post might make you sad if conversations about life, death, and all that do so. Not that such is my intention, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

I am weary of Death as it has been visiting more and more these last several years. Or maybe it is as ever-present as always — the statistics say that every second, a zillion people, animals, and slithering things die, right? — and I guess I have been just a bit closer to where it lands. I think of the Twilight Zone episode where the old woman refuses to let Death in the door. And the Teen Titans episode called Salty Codgers: look for the scene where Raven gets to the River Styx and the Ferryman offers to take her across for the cost of a dead man’s coin … the skeleton bird that keeps yelling “Dean man’s coin” is fabulous, yo. But I digress.

I arrived at the Lutheran church early, unsure if there would be a viewing since one was held at the mortuary last evening and I couldn’t go. I walked in and was the youngest person in the room. Marvin was 80 when he died. I walked up to the casket and looked down at not-Marvin. It was what remained after he had obviously Left. This not-Marvin was thinner than the guy I had visited some time ago, who was as robust as he was cranky. Like in the photo above, that wry smile was about as good as it got, but if you got it, you knew you were loved. I was blessed to get it every time I saw him. Even got a couple hugs, too. That’s when you really knew you were In Like Flint.

Like I said at the luncheon after the service, I was a friend by proxy. Marvin and Christopher had been friends. I think Marvin was about the third person I called the day Christopher Left for the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. He was one of the only local people I knew would be there for my household, besides the folks at the church we attended.

I found a pew that was not too close to the front and not too far back and wondered about the whole seating thing: which side of the sanctuary was supposed to be family and which was for friends. It seems that is a ‘thing’ for weddings and funerals. I looked up at the beautiful vaulted ceiling and tears welled up as I remembered the time I went to service with Marvin. I worked at Azusa Pacific University at the time and was taking a non-credit class in which they had us attend services at three different congregations from our own. I mentioned this assignment to Christopher and, having attended a Lutheran church back in Camden (NJ) as a child, he suggested I go with Marvin. As Sharon, Marvin’s daughter shared during the service, Marvin’s faith was private; if you didn’t know about his membership, you might not have known he was as close to God as he was. That’s not a good or bad thing — it’s just a fact. He lived a quiet life all round, a man of few words, so it should come as no surprise that he didn’t go spouting off at the lip about it. Evidently, Christopher talked to Marvin about my class because the next time I saw him, Marvin said, ‘I guess you are coming to church with me on Sunday.’ It wasn’t a request. It just was. I got there early and by the grunt he gave me when I walked over and the way he tugged at his suit jacket sleeves, he seemed pleased. He watched carefully as I took notes during the sermon and asked me what I thought of the service. He listened intently, nodded, and grunted again, satisfied by my response.

His dog, Skeeter, was his constant companion. He fussed about her, called her ‘him’ more often than not, but you rarely saw one without the other. When the time seemed right at the luncheon after the service, I could contain my heart-question no longer and asked his daughter about Skeeter. She said they had taken Skeeter home and her son, who is 5, is thrilled to have a dog. I don’t think I’d taken a full breath since her call to tell me that Marvin had died because my first two thoughts were, ‘I hope Marvin was not alone’ and ‘Where is Skeeter?’. I took a deep one as she walked away, having gotten the answer to both; Marvin had been in hospital, surrounded by family and friends and Skeeter was with Marvin’s grandson.

Why do people refer to the dead as ‘the late’ So-and-so? He or she isn’t ‘late’. Unless of course lateness was a chronic condition from which they suffered in life.

I struggle with how to refer to folks after they Leave. I knew Marvin’s family probably wouldn’t know me by name without reference to Christopher and it felt weird to write Christopher’s wife on the card, but what to do? The choices are minimal and weird. I often refer to him as ‘my former husband’ which doesn’t capture it exactly. Those closest to me know what I mean but to those who don’t, they probably think we divorced or something until it inevitably comes up and I tell them that he died. And then we go through the whole ‘I am so sorry’ thing and I feel obligated to tell them it’s okay because he had been very ill and yada yada and nobody is comfortable anymore until we find something else to talk about.

I don’t want that to happen when I go. I suspect it won’t, that people might in fact be like, ‘Wow, the world can rest now that the big mouth is on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Let her go drive them nuts over there’.

I want people to not cry but to laugh.

I don’t want my writings to suddenly be worth lots of cash monies after I go — they need to be worth lots of cash monies when I’m over here, where I can spend them.

And whatever happens, I don’t want anyone to call me anything remotely like ‘The late Dr. Robinson-Neal’. Just. Ew.

Tell the truth. I died. Hopefully, I’ll do it well, with panache, but without pain. I want to live to an annoyingly old age and if that desire is granted, I hope the people I love also live to an annoyingly old age and show up to the spreading of my ashes, where they will drink too much, laugh too much, and tell stories until the sun rises over the water.

Yeah, I’m certain that’s what I want.

For a long time, I was afraid of cremation (because horror movies — the person was ALWAYS alive when the coffin went into the incinerator and who wants that?), so I decided I’d have a cool above-ground crypt, like Victoria, Dr. Phibes‘ wife.

And then I became acquainted with the cost that Death exacts and didn’t want to begin to imagine how much it would be to have a crypt. As I got older and more conscious of my own lack of need for such a strange and permanent footprint, I realized that by being cremated I could have the greatest monument of all: the ocean. I grew up near the Atlantic and as such, I always pine for the water. When I get close to it, the smell of salt invigorates me. All my stress falls away the closer I get and by the time I put my body in the water, I am free. Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico — it matters not. But in the end, I want to be spread on the Atlantic if possible. All who remain to remember me can think of me, any time they are near salt water.

Refer to me in past tense as I suppose there isn’t much of a choice, is there? ‘She was …’ whatever. Just don’t call me late, even if I am on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge and can’t hear you. Like Marvin, I have a thing about being late.

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