I’m a firm believer that the human brain can only handle so much at a time before it shuts down. When someone you love dies, you spend a lot of time answering questions. After a while, you get sick of them and start picking random things just so people will leave you alone. The woman in the funeral home was the last straw for me after my son’s death. It wasn’t that she was rude; she was quite the opposite. There was just too much she needed to know, like there was too much I needed to know.
When someone dies, many things are unknown.
Her name was Cori. She was waiting for us when we walked into the lobby. My mother in law shook her hand, and Cori seemed to somewhat know the situation from a conversation they had had beyond my awareness. The four of us walked into a tiny room off of the lobby and she began asking questions.
My son’s entire life fit on a single form; it was the form she would use to draft the obituary. I stared out the window as she spoke, at a bird fluttering about in the bush. I wondered what would happen if he suddenly tried to fly inside, if he ran into the window and fell to the ground. And died.
Where do we go when we die?
Did I want our son to be cremated?
No, cremation is forever; cremation happens by fire. I didn’t want my son to burn. Someone was pushing a clipboard towards me. I looked down. It was an acknowledgement that cremation was permanent. I hadn’t agreed to that, I never said…
Cremation is a permanent state of being; an irreversible process.
The husband signed the form, so I did as well. I had no choice.
Irreversible. As in never coming back.
Cori gave me an enormous binder. Flip through it, she told me. See if there was anything I might want to put him in. Like he was a deceased pet I would bury in the backyard. The photographs were nice, but I couldn’t tell just by looking at them. I pushed back from the table and wandered into the showroom. There were coffins everywhere, but in a smaller room at the back of the showroom there was a room filled with different kinds of urns. Cori drifted in, explaining the differences between the urns. The large ones were obviously for adult remains. But the smaller a person was at the time of their death, the less mass they took up. Obviously, babies are quite small, she said. There were urns made for babies, but she plucked something else from the shelf and held it out to me.
I didn’t see the difference. The urns for babies were small. This urn was small. But this one was special, she said. It was for cases where siblings or other family may want to divide up the remains of their dead so that they could each take a piece home. It was morbid, the idea that people would want to split up their dead. But obviously it happened.
How did I choose where my son would spend forever? What makes one urn better than another? I spotted one that I thought I might like, if it was possible to like such a thing. It was a tiny bronze one with a red satin case shaped like a heart. The urn rested in a small niche inside, and the heart could be closed around it. Like a jewelry box.
If it was on a shelf, you would never know there was a dead person inside it. You wouldn’t know it contained all that was left of my son.
We went back out to the room and filled out the order forms for the urn and its accompanying red heart case. A second woman appeared with the first draft of the obituary. The husband passed the typewritten page to me. I was the writer, he said, so I should look at it. I gave the paper a once over and passed it back. I didn’t really see it at all. I watched as everyone else in the room finalized the details without my input. Watching as they finalized his death—a permanent, irreversible process.
He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, though I suppose everybody says that about their child. He was mine. He was gone. He was dead.