One advantage of burial: You can brag to everyone that you were bitten by a rabid coyote.
If I really want to watch my mother work herself into a lather, I'll tell her that I intend to be cremated.
"Like hell you will," she says, usually adding without a trace of irony some injunction from past church leaders about the sanctity of the human body. I've never understood how sticking this precious gift of carbon in a hole in the ground to be devoured by 'skin worms,' as Job so eloquently describes it, shows any more respect than reducing it to five convenient pounds of ashes, but evidently someone, somewhere got their teeth into that one, and ever since then we haven't been able to shift the sod fast enough.
In fact, teeth factor prominently into the confusion. One of Mom's favorite stories to tell is about the time her hometown cemetery was flooded. Coffins shifted and floated all over the place, and months afterward a pair of dentures was spotted hanging in a tree. Where's the nobility, the honor, in having your teeth swinging from a branch decades after you'd pushed on?
You would think that reminding my mom that it's unlikely she'll be around to cast a vote would end the discussion, but no. Defying further religious tenets -- these having to do with the visitation of relatives from The Other Side, but only as angels, never as ghosts -- she promises that she will haunt whichever of my children or spouses (you never know) gives the go ahead to fire up the oven. Given the enjoyment she gets out of leaving grandmotherly comments on the kids' Facebook pictures while she's still living ("Pull up your pants, your diaper's showing"), this threat of afterlife pestering carries weight.
Still, I think I've got at least one of my children on board, and since it's Cori, who is five feet, nine inches of pure stubbornness, I'm fairly confident she'll get the job done. Although, to hear her tell it, she 'called' cremation first.
"I've always wanted to be cremated," she says, arms folded and bottom lip out, as though announcing those intentions means the rest of us will just have to come up with another way of getting our earthly remains out of the way. "And don't choose cryogenics. I call that for Sadie."
Our attempts at usurping Cori's special method of departure notwithstanding, I have no doubt that when the time comes, I'll wind up in the urn of my choosing, or -- and you should see how my mother reacts to this one; she rolls her eyes so far into her skull she risks spraining them -- as fertilizer for a tree next to a park bench somewhere on our estate, to be enjoyed by generations of my posterity. I admit that currently our 'estate' consists of a quarter acre of grass on a residential cul de sac, but still, there's enough room for a tree. Maybe a Japanese Elm, you know, one of those little ones.
When I'm having too much fun with the subject, Mom will invite my husband into the discussion, cast for this occasion as The Voice of Reason. He's usually the one to peg in these situations.
"Talk some sense into your wife," she'll say, forgetting for the moment that Brett intends to be cremated as well. When he reminds her of this, she usually tosses her hands into the air, shouts "Ish!" and, as a last ditch effort, resorts to insulting our intelligence. "You're a couple of ninnies," she'll say. "The state should take away your right to think for yourselves."
Our reasons for wanting to be cremated are different: To me, there is something ridiculous in the idea that the fanciest piece of furniture I'll ever own is the one I can't show off to my Visiting Teachers. They may be on hand to remark on how simple-yet-elegant the polished wood and silver fittings are, but it's not like I'll have the chance to preen. Far better to spend the money on something showy, like a Coach purse or a Volvo.
For my husband, it's a matter of claustrophobia. He has no interest in spending the intervening time between his death and the Resurrection stifling under six feet of topsoil. And don't bother pointing out that he'll have the whole universe to run around in until his number comes up; he'll just shudder and shake his head. "No, thanks," he'll say. "Pass."
Of course, resurrection is another one of those sticking points. "What happens when it's finally your turn and you can't find your kidneys?" my mom asks. "You're going to feel pretty stupid then."
I don't know how it was with the original Resurrection -- the one when all those graves opened and the dead just waltzed out like it was another day in the park -- but I bet there were a few who'd been cooling their heels long enough that most of the good stuff was reduced to dust ages ago. I have to believe that a brand new set of replacement parts is included in the Eternal Life Starter Kit, if for no other reason than I've never seen anything in the Bible about zombies.
Maybe this won't even matter. Maybe we'll be in that crew that is still around for the Second Coming, and we'll be snuffed out and resurrected in the twinkling of an eye, as they say. Perhaps that's what I should put in my living will: 'All parts available after the twinkling. See cashier for details.'
Of course, knowing at least one of my kids, that may be harder rowing than you'd think.
"Twinkling?" Cori will sniff. "Pretty sure I called it first."