Last December, when my daughters and I invited my mom, their grandmother, to go birthday shopping, she was thrilled. After years of Grandma taking her granddaughters shopping, the tables had turned.
After thinking about it, Mom called to tell me what she wanted to shop for.
She said (I am not making this up), "The only thing I need is a nice dress to be buried in."
After the initial shock, I answered, "You better not tell your granddaughters. They would have a fit; and furthermore, they would never help you shop for a dress you plan to wear to the grave."
I now know what I sound like to my own daughters when I talk of inevitable death. They abhor this subject even though I consider it quite natural~~it's natural for a parent to die before a child, natural for a parent to prepare her child for life's eventualities: school, puberty, friendships, love, college, marriage, children, and yes, even her parents' deaths.
Tony's mother seems to be winding down too. Though she hasn't requested anyone to help her shop for a burial dress, she is cleaning out her garage, both metaphorically and literally. She's given an older car to a neighbor, offered her gardening four wheeler to a grandchild. She's rethinking the money she has in savings. How much does she really need to live out her life? Her eyesight dims, her hearing volume lessens. She's unpacking for a different journey.
I had two contrasting experiences this morning.
The first was making the mistake of clicking on an advertisement for a miracle life extension supplement. After watching a repetitive, too-long, visual-flashing video, I learned of a newly discovered combination of natural ingredients promising not only a longer life, but more energy, a more youthful cellular environment, and a turning off-of the effects of aging. I must have been slightly taken in, because I told Tony about the ad and suggested he check it out. He nodded his head with a slightly turned-up lip. His eyes got big, he managed to stay serious, but my explanation dropped off a cliff as if I'd never been speaking. If I were to order the vitamins, I'd so in secret, hide them in a raisin box, take them incognito, then feign exhaustion on a bike ride only to return home and head up a different hill twice as high and long as his!
The second experience was hugging a mother whose son had died.
We can accept when our aged parents come to the end of the line. We miss them already, we are anguished, but we're thankful they're free from arthritis, free from the walker or the wheelchair, free from confusion. But losing a child, messes up the course of life. No one should take a cut in the line.
Postscript: Two months later, Mom's at it again. "I found the burial dress I want! It's Hawaiian! Like a muumuu, but white and formal." She even found a manufacturer in Hawaii that might carry the dress. While talking, I google white muumuus, but can't find a dress that fits her description.
"The woman who was wearing the dress got it in Hawaii."
"Then it looks like when we go to Hawaii for your birthday, we'll be looking for your burial dress too."
She confirms that indeed we will, and it gives me the sense there are other celebrations besides a birthday. Perhaps, when it is time, I too will pragmatically prepare for the end of the third act--unless of course, the miracle life extending vitamins actually work. IF I order them.