“Oma, there’s dead people under those rocks, you know.”
I glance over to see what Satchel is talking about. My four-year-old grandson is commenting from his car seat about the small cemetery to our left on East Napa Street.
“I know, that’s where they put our bodies when we die.”
“What do they do with the heads?” he asks.
“Well, when we die we don’t need our bodies any more,” then elaborate with a spiritual conversation about bodies, souls, and death.
“Yeah, but what do they do with the heads?”
That sweet conversation was nine years ago.
As deaths in my generation occur with increasing regularity, my impending demise moves to the forefront of my imagination. Odds are good I’ll live to my mid-80s or 90s. Odds are equally as good I won’t. Things happen.
Will I be satisfied with how I lived my life? I will. I’ve cleaned up most of my inner litter. I’ve participated in the creation of two fine and very funny sons, two grandchildren who make my heart sing, and three successful businesses. I’ve helped hundreds of friends and clients in Sonoma buy and sell their homes. I’ve contributed my time, money, and abilities to this community. I’ve written five family histories, provided a vast amount of genealogical information on Find A Grave, published two books, and now have a newspaper column and local radio show.
What would I like to complete before I die? I don’t have a lot of unrealized hopes, relationships that need cleaning up, or ironing to do before I go. Nor do I have much on my to-do list other than returning old family pictures, dealing with the thousands of genealogy emails (this may be total fantasy), and publish the full family memoir I started 15 years ago. While I still have stamina and most of my marbles, I might want to get crackin’ on these things.
Am I afraid to die? I’ve no idea. It’s an “in the moment” process, mysterious and profound, and I don’t think that any of us know how much grace, or dis-grace, will cling to us when we die. I suppose it depends on the circumstances, and our attitude towards death.
I don’t believe that death is “it.” Will those who’ve passed be there to greet me? Will my consciousness be able to connect to the earthly plane? I’ve felt some who have passed over connect with me, so why couldn’t my energy do the same? Does karma connect in any way to our death? Will I return with more work to do around my mother? I mean really, enough is enough already. Give me someone else to dance with next time around.
The older I get, the faster time goes. In ten years I’ll be 78. It will be harder to roll out of bed, more challenging to keep up with my grandchildren — who by then will be nearly adults themselves — and impossible for me to get to Carnegie Hall, no matter how much I practice living.
What do I want to happen to my body? My preference is cremation, mainly because I’m afraid of bugs. If there’s room in that little cemetery on East Napa, I’d like a marker there with my name on it, but any Sonoma cemetery will do. I’ve lived here so long that I want to remain part of this community. Plus, I would no longer be lost. What inscription would I like other than name and dates? It would be poetic to commemorate my final rude awakening with a touch of humor: “How did I get here?”