Three weeks after we buried my Dad in 2011, my uncle had a massive heart attack. We were fortunate to be able to get him to the hospital in time to save him but not before there had been significant damage to his heart. That being said, he continued to live a very good life, exercising at rehab three times a week even after the initial period was over and he enjoyed all the times he spent with us at dinners, parties, weddings and weekly visits.
Paul and I had the “Talk” many times. All he wanted was to be cremated with nothing! No viewing, no autopsy, nothing. I would chuckle and say, if you die in an accident, you will most likely have an autopsy and if you are cremated, someone has to see you to identify you! I continually reminded him that he was being selfish and that we were the ones that would need to be able to mourn him as a family!
Many of his friends were dying, several of them choosing cremation too. Many had full visitations, Masses with casket or urn present and the majority had small family gatherings afterwards to continue to celebrate a life well lived. He would always tell me how nice it was, and I would remind him that this is what we were going to need as a family when his time came.
He finally conceded that we could have an invite only Memorial Mass that might be held at a small chapel close by, we could bury him in our family lot, and we could have a small gathering. We talked about urns, and I bought some catalogs over so he could find something he liked. He loved Davis Whitehall’s Urn, the Halia. It is a beautiful urn that has a pebble and ripples on top, simulating a pebble being thrown in water creating ripples symbolizing all the things that he had done during his life over the years. The urn was special to me because when I was younger, he and my Uncle Don taught me how to skip pebbles in Lake Erie!
The day I took him to the hospital for a procedure on his leg for a blockage last December, he walked me around the apartment showing me where all the important papers were…he must of had a premonition, but I thought he was just scared. I assured him all would be fine.
The procedure went great but the aftermath of the medication, complications and care, took him in a little over a week. He was awake, alert and one of my family was with him most of the time. None of us, including him, thought he was actually going to die. We shared some very good conversation and laughs with him, but he made us promise, no heroics. He was not afraid to die. His death was a shock for everyone but for me, I had the peace of mind because I knew what he wanted done. I was so glad we had the “Talk of a Lifetime”.
The final decisions would be up to his siblings, my Mom and Uncle Joe, as they were the next of kin. As we discussed the options at the funeral home, all was done according to his wishes with two exceptions. We had a private family viewing and he was bought to Church in a casket for Mass of Christian Burial before his Cremation. It was a beautiful day and at the small gathering afterwards, we all celebrated Paul’s life enjoying each other and sharing so many memories. My cousins played guitar and sang his favorite song, “Blue Suede Shoes” along with a song they wrote specifically for him, “Up Yours Pal!” There is no way he could have been angry with how we celebrated and remembered him.
The following day we took him to the cemetery for burial and the urn was placed in the urn vault. Each of the family members received a pebble with his name on it to remember him. It is something I will cherish forever, just like the Chaplet made from my Dad’s roses by my friends at Commemorative Rosaries. Each of my family has one and for us, these are a small remembrance that although not physically here, they are always with us.
Sometimes it is hard to start the conversation, but it is so worth having…right Uncle Paul!