Artist’s Lane: A serious dinner conversation

By Betty Slade
PREVIEW Columnist

When our family gets together, we take turns telling stories that usually end up with an eruption of laughter. That is, until last Sunday’s family dinner. 

“Since you are all here, I’d like to read the instructions I wrote for my funeral.”

They looked at me in shock and then one of them said, “Well, I guess we should hear what you have to say.”

Another one asked, “Now? Is this really the most appropriate time?”

As I stood, the table groaned. I heard someone say under their breath, ”I hope she makes this fast, I’m sure I have somewhere else I need to be.”

I opened up our trust documents and prefaced my reading by saying, “We never know what tomorrow brings. I have given this a lot of thought. These pages reflect my last words on earth. This is a very solemn moment for me.”

All dry eyes were on me as my family sat back, ready to butt in with a joke or a few one-liners.

“OK, here goes. I’ve titled this ‘Upward Flux.’”

I had no more gotten that far into my reading when the table burst out in laughter. 

“Upward Flux. You mean like acid reflux or is that gastric reflux?”

“No, an upward movement to heaven. Flux, like the action or process of moving upward -— in faith.” 

The sound of rolling eyes was deafening. “Well, I guess I need to change the title.” 

“No, it’s perfect. Don’t change it. Keep reading.” 

The outbreak of comic relief kept my words anything but serious. Determined to get my last wishes out, I looked down at my typed pages and continued. 

“Since the Blanco River runs by our house and has always meant a lot to this family, I have decided to have my ashes placed in a nice urn and buried in a hole on the high ground next to the river. I know your dad feels the same way about his ashes.”

Our son, “Precious” said, ”Why don’t we just toss your ashes in the river. It would be less work and you would get to see the country side.”

My response was vehement. “My life has always been in an upward flux. I certainly don’t want to start floating down stream now. Please, do as I ask and make sure the hole is dug deep and on high ground. You remember June of 2019? The river rose so high that it ran over the banks and flooded the lower portion of our property. There must have been a hundred prairie dogs floating across its surface. I don’t want my next appearance after death to be bobbing around in a sea of rodents. And if you don’t mind, please install a nice headstone and plant a few flowers. This way I have some assurance that you will come visit out of obligation for watering the flowers.”

Again, with the wisecracks. “Note to self: Plastic flowers don’t require watering.”

“Bobbing urn and floating prairie dogs, now that’s a country song that writes itself.”

I don’t know why I bothered, but I continued. “A small intimate memorial to remember the things that were important about me would be nice. A picnic by the Blanco River would be a special touch. I want to have a festive day full of music. 

“Spring or fall would probably be a beautiful time for a little get-together, although June is full of pesky bugs and July can be so hot. Whenever the time is to be, I just want to look down at happy faces, and enjoy stories that celebrate my life. Promise me my memorial will not be marked by sad faces drenched in sweat while people swat at mosquitoes.”

I gave instructions to my artistic granddaughter. “I saved all my old paintbrushes. I’d like you to decorate them with red or turquoise ribbon. I spent years holding those brushes in my hand and have a crooked middle finger on my left hand to prove it.”

“Hold it up. Let us see it.” Laughter again.

“You’re making fun. This is serious.” 

“I’d like for my memorial to be by the river. Although, most of my friends are older and might not be able to make a 40-yard dash back to the bathroom in time. You better have a four-wheeler lined up and available for those who need a quick exit.”

“I love my Sweet Al, but I refuse to have Whiskey ruin the day. Besides, if she digs me up, you will have no other choice but to place me on the mantle. Angel, please hold your dad’s hand during the ceremony. I’m not sure what will make him cry more, me not being there or him not having Whiskey by his side.”

Final brushstroke: These conversations in life are never easy, but for family, very necessary. For me, I want to be remembered for Jesus who lives in me, who has allowed me to take the higher road, even when those around me poked fun or tried to drag me down. My children will probably do what they want and my son will probably try to see if urns float. But at least they know where my heart is and that is the greatest legacy I could ever hope to leave behind. 

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This story was posted on July 27, 2020.