When I contemplate my mortality, I wring my hands over what I’ve done and what I’ve left undone. Who’s with me here? What are my regrets? Will I be leaving my family in a lurch? Have I said everything I needed to? Am I straight with Jesus and God? Will my children be provided for? Will my Girlfriends remember what they are supposed to get out of the house asap? These are pretty deep rabbit holes to fall down and have prompted much discussion among friends and family about “End of Life” decisions.
In an eerily timely fashion, this musing dovetails with the 15th anniversary of my own Mother’s death. Normally, talk of death and funerals would be dour at best, but like Hot Damn, my Mother wasn’t like other girls. After Mother’s first Cancer fact finding MRI in 1990, Carolyn had a realization. Amid all of the jittery nerves, white noise knocking, bad lighting and tight quartered reflections, something became clear to Mother. As is? She was not going to look that great in a casket. For one thing, her hair was a mess and she could see how the wrong shade next to the skin could really wash out a girl’s complexion…probably even more than not being alive. What to do? Carolyn began processing her “visitation look” pronto.
Initially, I thought this was a folly. Perhaps the influence of too many male decorator friends? But Carolyn won me over when I was forced to recline flat on the sofa, mirror in hand, so that she could prove her point. There was simply no denying how great my neck and décolleté looked with next to zero gravity. But it was also inarguable that something was lacking. Oh, oh, oh! How much better would it be with falsies??? Mother had totally nailed it. You gotta come correct with your eye-lash game.
Years later, it was clear the direction Cancer was going, and Carolyn became super proactive in making sure that she was going to be the most fabulous looking “resident” at Patterson’s Spring Hill. Mother picked out the right Home-Going wig, found just the perfect warm shade of coral nail polish, bought long, bushy false eyelashes that would have made RuPaul proud, and even splurged on a new Oscar de la Renta gown, spending an obscene amount of money having it altered accordingly as she shrank. In fact, she gave kudos to Cancer for giving her the waif figure she had spent years eating cottage cheese and chain-smoking trying to achieve. Let’s take a moment to reflect: How great is it that Carolyn found that sort of optimism in her decline? I was even dispatched to get shoes dyed to match the dress, because she was old-school like that. This sort of attention detail is why I, myself, die a little bit every time my kid stands at the door wearing athletic shorts and a stained t-shirt ready to go out to dinner. Sigh.
Every media outlet is chock full of full of stories about violent riots, impending doom, stock market defeat, shootings and apartment fires from overnight. Most of us live in a constant state of bracing for the worst. According to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et. al., a slew of us Americans are now particularly fretful over the certain swift ass-kicking we’re all in for by Ebola. At the root is not just fear that we’re all going to die, but it is compounded with worry that it’s going to happen in the blink of an eye.
It’s all well and good for us to tie up loose ends while having our look pulled together and ready to go as the pearly gates are opening, but what if Ebola strikes and there just isn’t the time, because of the quarantine, to run around and make everything just so. How prepared are any of us for an untimely death, really? I’m not just talking about estate planning, insurance payouts, handing over the safe deposit box keys, or updating living wills. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched the evening news covering a tragic death and my come-away was, “Is THAT the best picture they could find”? “It’s grainy.” “He looks like a gangster.” “The decedent is clearly 30 years younger in that snapshot.” “Where are her teef?” This is just unacceptable. How does this happen that there are no recent or decent pictures available? It’s a final insult to a “loved” one.
Girlfriend Carol finds herself especially vexed, not by the emotional strain that her hypothetical sudden death will leave for her people, but by how ill prepared her family might be should she be in need of an impromptu funeral. In particular, will her husband be able to get his grief-striken shit together enough to provide the papers with a totally flattering picture for her, ahem, full page obituary spread? Most likely, that would be a NO. Without direction and pre-planning, none of us will ever get to be obituary chic. However, Girlfriend Carol has a solution: a mandate that once a year we all hire a professional photographer, or an artsy friend with a nice set of lenses, to snap us at our best. Be captured in an elegant setting with soft lighting on a day with low humidity. Be “caught” looking pensive in a field of blooming lavender. Act natural while holding an adorable puppy. If you aren’t pressed for time, get cozy with photoshop. Chisel that jawline, add symmetry to your eye brows, whittle away your batwings, or erase those crows’ feet in a way that Botox never can! The worst case scenario is that you don’t die soon enough and the picture goes on to make a memorable Christmas card, show up on a future senior yearbook page, or it simply makes a wonderful framed reminder on the piano of just how prepared you are. Either way.