My mother made her final wishes very clear: (1) No use of medical methods (such as a feeding tube) to extend her life; (2) Cremate her body; (3) Spread her ashes in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
We began to follow Wish 1 last year about this time when she could no longer swallow solid food. Mom passed away in September 2007. Thus, we were able to check Wish 2 off her list in early October. Her cremated remains are safely tucked away in my entry hall closet awaiting Wish 3.
So now we're closing in on completing that third wish. We've booked plane reservations for later in the summer and been in contact with my brother and his family to organize schedules and hotel plans. We've also started investigating places to spread Mom's ashes (which, in some ways, is funny since Mom was deathly afraid of heights).
Frankly, the part that has been stumping me the past month or so has been how to use this sacred event to not only honor Mom's last request, but also help those of us who remain to celebrate her life and the effect she had on each of us. Mom didn't specify any Bible or spiritual passages to read or specific idea to contemplate. Another consideration is that my friends, Bob and Anna, will join us on the trip both to celebrate my mother's life and to scatter the ashes of their neighbor, Lorraine, in this majestic final resting spot. Thus, this summer's event needs to honor two glorious women who were struck down by Alzheimer's disease.
After sharing my quandary about this trip during a conversation a month ago, my friend Chris got up and went into another room. Upon her return, she handed me the book, Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral, by Kris Radish. The novel details the journey undertaken by five women who are to follow specific funeral requests that were written out by Annie and sent in the mail after her death. Annie's remains, which have been cremated and placed into a pair of red high-top sneakers, come in the package with the requests, as well as plane tickets and car rental vouchers. The novel's plot takes the women - who describe themselves as pallbearers - to different parts of the country to learn about unknown aspects of Annie's life, to scatter Annie's ashes, and to find a new meaning to their own lives. One woman is still grieving the loss of her own mother. Another woman was the hospice nurse who cared for Annie while another lived next door to Annie in her final days. Each character has a story, a life, and her own individual challenges, but each finds ways to drop everything to participate in this traveling funeral.
The women don't have a plan of what the traveling funeral should be like; instead, they make it up day by day. They each write their thoughts in a common journal, and then write what they think Annie's response would be to their thoughts. The women take time to fully soak in the emotions that the traveling funeral brings to light, find new ways of thinking about and celebrating life, and develop extremely tight bonds to each other. And they make plans to join together in traveling funerals in the future.
I know that in many ways, funerals are as much for those who remain as for those who have died. Radish's book made me stop and think about what we - the pallbearers of Mom's and Lorraine's ashes - can expect from this upcoming traveling funeral and also what serendipity might await us. Immediately upon finishing the novel, I e-mailed Anna to suggest she read the book. My hope is that my father, brother, Bob, Anna, and I can find ways to make Mom's and Lorraine's traveling funeral a rich, special and meaningful celebration that ends up being as meaningful to each pallbearer as these two special women were.
Published On: June 20, 2008