Got up this morning and headed out on a short road trip with Jots and the Southern Gentleman to a neighboring town, where the Southern Gentleman will be addressing the Group Formerly Known as the Hemlock Society.
Riding in the car was an experience as he knows every dirty joke that has ever been uttered, and she has brain cloud, so in spite of herself, she was laughing at the jokes as if she’d never heard them. It was at this point that I decided Southern Gentleman, didn’t fit that well, and renamed him the Optimistic Undertaker. Which he is. Oh, I forgot that detail, didn’t I? Okay, the OU is a former undertaker, very passionate about death and dying, which is only one reason out of a thousand that he and Jots are buds.
The Group Formerly Known as the Hemlock Society is a small group, mostly elderly, very passionate about the individual’s right to choose how to end their life with dignity.
It’s always inspiring being around people who are passionate about what they do. The Optimistic Undertaker was forthright and joyful about his work as an undertaker, preferring the older term for the stilted “funeral director.” He explained that the name came because the undertaker “undertakes” all the details that the family no longer does.
“Sometimes, people tell me that they don’t want a funeral. Don’t want anything to do with it. Well, I understand, you’re saying that you don’t want one of what you’ve been to.” He talked a bit about where we’ve gone wrong with funerals – the cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all funerals, led by someone who didn’t even know the person.
After telling about the history of funerals, and where we are now, he opened up the floor for “Stump the Undertaker.” Great questions came from the floor, many wanting specific information about cremation, or DIY funerals and such.
After the meeting, we had lunch at the golf course with the president of the group, a retired Episcopal priest and seminary professor and his wife.
They were so charming, sweet … just not enough superlatives. The priest was sitting across from me and after a few minutes, he stood up, and requested that his wife change seats with him so that he could talk with the seminary student (me). Lovely! He and I then got into a long talk about his experience, and his call. When I mentioned my call, he looked slightly confused. “But I thought you were Unitarian?” Um, yes. “A call from what?”
His grandmother was a Congregationalist, turned Unitarian. He told about how when she went to church, you “rented” a pew. She gave the money for her pew with the provision that anyone could sit in it. This many decades later, it was obvious that he still held pride in that.
We talked all sorts of things, including sex, specifically that clergy needs to be more willing to talk about it. He and I discovered this was a soap box issue for the both of us and had an animated conversation. Poor Jots. She can’t take me anywhere.
I talked to his wife about being “the minister’s wife” and told her about a friend of mine – who is married to the minister, but is not the minister’s wife. Oh, she just loved that. She told about when she decided she wanted to apply for the Vestry. There were some who didn’t feel that was appropriate for the minister’s wife, “but I just …” she shrugged, looking very much like Barack Obama when he famously brushed it off his shoulders.
She did get selected for the Vestry, and there was a church leadership retreat. She was looking at the sleeping arrangements – Vestry together in a bunkhouse, minister and wife in a separate cabin – No, no, no, she told them. In this arena, I am not the minister’s wife. I am a Vestry member. Her husband smiled proudly as she told this story.
As we left, she gave me some advice for my friend. “Be who you are and don’t do anything you don’t want to do. I never played the piano, didn’t really teach Sunday school. I wasn’t interested in that, I didn’t want to do it, so I didn’t.”
Really, a delightful couple.
We three went on our way, stopping to appreciate the historical significance of a Chocolate Shop. Mmm, butter toffee truffles.
Jots was having a sinking spell and fell asleep in the car. Optimistic Undertaker and I kept a running stream of chatter all the way back, about funerals and families, end of life stuff, and personal stories. “I want to tell people – don’t spend $20,000 on a funeral, use that money to hire a videographer or a journalism student to get the stories of all the people who loved the person. That’s worth the money. Celebrating who the person was.”
We came home and Jots sacked out on the couch for a little bit. Mr. Jots and I chatted, I did a little writing. When Jots woke up, planning to make a pot roast, Mr. Jots informed her that X had brought over a lasagna and her mama was coming over with more food. Damn Viral Meningitis, she swore. She knew that, but had forgotten. She picked up the phone and called a friend who lived across the street. “We got grub – come join us for dinner!”
Meanwhile, Mama Jots came to the house.
Mama Jots … okay, Jots and I already knew that we were long-lost twins, but the similarity between our Mamas is a little on the spooky side. Both tall and dignified. (But with all respect to my mama, Jots’ mother is cuter than mine – she’s willing to let her hair down and be funny.) After she left, I turned to Jots. “I bet I can tell you two things about your mama.” “Okay, go,” she said. “She’s a hard nut to crack and her silence is really, really loud.” She cracked up and said yes. Yep – exactly like my Mama.
And she obviously adores her daughter, the apple of her eye.
Later, the Jots’ neighbor and his date (a Presbyterian seminarian student … I’m telling you, the area is just lousy with seminarians) came over for good conversation, bad jokes, and all the good stuff. I introduced them to chocolate cake shots. What can I say? I’m on a mission from gahhhd.
After the good meal, Neighbor and Cute Girlfriend went back home to watch Citizen Kane, apparently for the first time. Behind our hands, when no one was paying attention, Jots and I leaned over to each other.
“Rosebud …” she whispered,
“Is his sled,” I completed.
But we were very careful to keep it quiet. Hey, we got some couth, you know?
Jots was having a hard time – the thing with viral meningitis is that the pain comes from your spinal fluid – and Tylenol doesn’t reach there. She was tired, but the pain was bigger than the tired. So after everyone went to bed, we stayed up, talking into the wee hours the way friends do – our lives, our families, thoughts about religion. And Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury’s novel. Or at least we thought we were talking about the same book. I was talking about Dandelion Wine, a book I’ve re-read at the start of about a dozen summers. I dunno what book she was talking about.
Girl Jots woke up and Jots took her back to bed. After a few minutes, I peeked in there. Jots was asleep, and two pretty little eyes were peeking over the edge of her mother, looking at me. She didn’t make a peep – she had Mama, so she was content.