Do not mess with the radio dial when a song comes on that I'm contemplating for my funeral.
I need to hear it for the full 3 minutes and 32 seconds before I decide if I want it or not. My three children know this. If they reach over thinking they'll pull a stealth station switch on me, I snake-bite grab their wrist, they know:
"For your funeral, huh?"
"Yup. Strong possibility: But not sure I'm feelin' the autotune..."
Fantasy Funeral Planning, they call it, their mom's favorite way to pass the time.
In the third grade, I had a standing dentist appointment every three months -- it was the '70s - soda was sold in gallons. I loved dentist appointment days, because not only did I get pulled out of school, but I was set to rest in a state of the art Barco-lounger where I could close my eyes and if it was a two or three filling day, my afternoon away from school could result in an especially satisfying round of Funeral Planning Daydream. Funeral Daydream Planning sounds morbid -- but only if you didn't grow up with it.
My mother was from Colombia, and the winters in Milwaukee would have done her in if it weren't for the tropical paradise we had only 20 minutes from our home: The beautiful Mitchell Park Domes. Funeral Fantasy was an all day dialogue for my mother and the Mitchell Park Domes were her dentist office. After church, we'd head over to our $2 per head vacation spot of the domes and while others strolled arm in arm, taking in the gardens, stopping to admire the color! The fragrance! The exquisite creation that a flower is! My mother funeral-inventoried. I'd follow behind, as she stiletto-heel clipped in front of me ticking off her funeral day choices:
"This lily -- too expected for a funeral. This red poppy, not properly respectful. Let's see... ahhhh! The peach roses! They are the promise of the sunsets in heaven! Please have these for me."
"OK, mama! Peach! I'll remember!"
Fantasy funeral planning : Is there a more satisfying way to consider our final chapter to life? I think not.
My mother didn't fear death.
The send-off part, anyway.
She wasn't afraid of dying -- she longed to see her mother again, my father, who passed away when he was 39 years old, of being with her four brothers.
But, I learned, there were dark moments as she thought of the afterlife: where the fear of being gone and then forgotten had her pacing the house at 3 a.m. I would hear the floor boards creak as she passed across the dining room and I couldn't stop myself from peeking out my bedroom door. I would go to her. Silent, I watched as she walked with rosary in hand.
"I didn't mean to wake you daughter. I am praying for the ones gone. They cannot be forgotten. They need their names to be said."
And she would pass a rosary bead, whispering a name with each one.
A few summers ago, I went to see a movie with my children. The Book of Life, it tells the story of the Day of the Dead, the afterlife in hispanic culture. The movie is vibrant, exploding in reds yellows turquoise blues. But, out of nowhere, comes a scene, sudden and swift, and breaks the movie in half.
In the movie, we see the The Land of the Forgotten. The Land of the Forgotten lies below The Land of The Remembered.
I was sitting between my two children when it hit me what my mother had been doing all those nights in prayer to those who had passed away.
"I GOT IT. YOU GUYS." I half shouted, pointing: "THIS -- THIS IS is what my mother was doing when she was always praying for everyone! She was keeping them out of The Land of the Forgotten! OMG, Do you guys hear what they're saying about the Land of the Forgotten!?"
"OMG, MOM: Enough with the Death and the DYING! Shhhhhh!"
I put my hand over my mouth because, "SHHH!" But my heart is pounding. I know everything now. We watch the screen, we see black against grey against haze. It's the land of the desolate, stripped cold and bare.
We hear the chilling howl of a solitary wind that sweeps dust across bones.
More haunting than the skeletal landscape, is the narrator telling us how quickly one can arrive in the Land of the Forgotten:
"To be here, one only has to be forgotten."
My mother passed away two years ago. Her body is now ash.
Now, I stand in the night, vigilant, whispering names into the dark.
"One only has to be forgotten."
"Mama," I say her name at night as I check the candle in front of her framed picture.
I am the sentinel at the gate.
"Mama," I say her name -- knowing she will not hear the empty wail of gusts that blow across the Land of the Forgotten.
And to my children: Don't try and stop me -- I'm going with the one with the autotune.