Death Wishes


In front of my parents' home after my father's funeral.

This is a blog I wrote for Nancy’s Point, a cancer blog that is ‘keepin’ it real.’  In Finding Peace, Lynn worries about her cancer returning and death.  They aren’t easy topics to discuss with others.  It’s especially difficult to get your family to hear and understand your wishes concerning the topic, understandably.

You may not agree with my ideas, but this was ‘Keepin’ It Real’ for me.

Death Wishes 

I hate pictures taken at funerals.

    But then I hate funerals.  Does anyone like them?

    Maybe this is a regional thing (my son’s new girlfriend pointed out that things could be culturally or regionally different.  It’s a good distinction.) In my husband’s region of Illinois, people take pictures at funerals – of the diseased laid out, of flowers, of mourners. The first time I found this out was when we were watching family films and up popped a film of my husband’s grandfather in his casket.  I think I said, “Is this a joke?”  

    But it was not.  They did this at every funeral. When my children and I showed up late for an infant nephew’s calling hours/wake, I expected anger.  Instead I got a kiss and a, “I’m so glad you missed that last half hour.” They spent an hour taking pictures, with the baby, near the baby.  Thank God they didn’t hold the baby (although I have heard of that.) Didn’t spare me from seeing the picture of the dead child in his casket, blown up, framed, on my mother in law’s bedroom wall.

    Shiver. Shake. Shudder.  It’s awful.  I made it crystal clear to my husband that I did not want pictures taken at my funeral.  I told him this before I got cancer.

    My family – Chicagoans – don’t take any pictures.  Well, maybe one or two after the lunch that was always held at the Lilac Lodge near Hillside, Illinois.  It was always a group family picture.  I get that; we took pics of our family in front of the old house because we knew with my father’s death that the house was history.

    Now, with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, I do think about death.  More than I want to think.  Dave’s brother in law lost his mother last week and what did Dave get texts of?  Pics of her in the casket, then pics of her coffin at the cemetery.  Then pics of her picture attached to the vault lid.


    “I wonder what my mom wants,”  Husband asked.

    To hell with what she wants!

    I do not want to be displayed when I die,”  I blurted out.  He didn’t say anything right away, but I went on.  “I know when you’re dead you don’t have any say or control, so I’m telling you now.  No wake!  No Calling Hours!  No picture on the outside of the box!”

    “Wonder what my mom wants?”

    “Ask her!”  I don’t really give a flying fuck!  That’s jealousy in me, I’m sure.  She’s ninety-five and at the rate she’s going she’ll way out live me.

    My husband hates it when I tell him that his mother will live longer than me.  And there it is:  the reason people don’t talk about death.  The fear that they are hastening the inevitable.

    Well, guys, I hate to tell you this, but with Stage 4 cancer, I am sentenced to death.  It’s coming, and I know it.  I don’t know when or where, and I’m not exactly crazy that I’ve received this gift (Nancy, is this one of those cancer gifts people are crazy enough to think of?). but I know that my husband is as scared as I am.  I know my mother in law is afraid to live to 100 because she told me that she doesn’t want to watch her children die.  (I am arrogant enough to think that she might mean me since I’m the sickest one of the children and children in law).

    Then I remembered.  Husband was working on a speech about after death wishes, something no one wants to talk about!

    Here goes:  I want to be cremated. I do not want to be on display. I’ve seen several cancer victims in caskets and it ain’t pretty, and right now when I’m losing hair, eye lashes included, and all vestiges of what was once a nice-looking female are going, I don’t want anyone to look down on me and say, “She looks good!”  or, worse, “They did a nice job of making her look good.”


     I want a church service. Preferably, Catholic but I’ll take Lutheran if you can get Pastors Melissa and Scott to officiate.

    It’d be cool to be buried in St. Patrick’s Country Cemetery since that is the only burial grounds that I ever felt was comforting.  Definitely, not Rosedale Cemetery.  Oh, and I don’t want huge grave markers that have carvings of every single hobby I’ve ever had – vines, flowers, rosaries, folded hands in prayer.  NO!

    Okay, maybe a book …

    I want family gathered together.  I know you can’t avoid tears, or reminiscing.  In fact, one of the most touching sermons I’ve heard was when the minister said that we should all share our memories of Aunt Marge after the service.  So instead of saying, “Sorry for your loss” to Marge’s daughter, I told her a story about how Marge thought (mistakenly) that we had named our only daughter after her.  They looked at me like I was nuts, but I thought the minister’s suggestion had merit!

    I do not want to be placed in a box with the dress I wore to my son’s wedding (that has faded and doesn’t fit).  I don’t want flowers in my hair or on my wrist (like my great grandmother). I don’t want Ave Maria played as background music – or any other funeral dirges for that matter.

    Don’t let any deranged with grief family member talk you into a last-minute viewing (like my mother did for her mother).  Shudder, shudder, shudder.

    If there’s a need to feed people, take part of my life insurance and go to a restaurant.  Do not feed people back at my home.  I don’t like cooking and I definitely will haunt you if a bunch of women gather in my home to ‘help out’ which means that they will end up gossiping about my lack of kitchen accoutrements and what they think is lousy decorating. Or wander through my home and talk about the house/me.  No!

    I want a party with little kids – my granddaughters – running all over, giggling. If there’s music, I want upbeat music. No dirges, please.  I want pictures taken on the lawn of my home.  I want a service and I want eulogies which detail all the silly, stupid things I’ve done throughout my years as their mother.  (Daughter is fond of saying, “That’s going in the eulogy.”  Good!)

    Hey.  Know what?  I actually feel good that I’ve written this down!  I don’t know – won’t know – if any of it is followed.  But at least I’ve made vocal my ideas of what I want after I die.  That’s more than most people do.

    I especially do not want any mention of Cancer.  Fuck cancer.  If it’s going to take me – and I hope that’s somewhere down the road but who the hell knows? – then let it die with me.  Remember the good, not the bad.  And Cancer is bad.

Deep inhale of breath.

So there. I’ve done it. 

What do you want for your funeral?

Do you have any last wishes that you want to share?

Is it hard to talk about death?  Why?

Are there death traditions that you find awful?

On Word & Upward!

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1 comment:

  1. I agree with everything about funerals and the "traditions" of taking pictures of people in their caskets. (I think it's creepy as hell) I live in the Miss. Delta in a town called Rosedale (never knew there was a Rosedale cemetery any where else) and some people still take pics of the dead. I admire your ability to put your words down about dying and cancer, so honest. I just found your books from Romance REviews Today and they look absolutely awesome. I've ordered the second book and I look forward to reading them all. You have a great outlook on life and I hope you live for a long time yet.


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About the Author

I'm a wife, mom, sister, daughter, and very much not perfect. My own multiple health problems led me to write about women who experience life's traumas, but bounce back because they are resilient. I strive to bring happily ever afters to all my characters.

On Word and Upward!