The Old Man and Me
I was talking to a friend the other day about life and death. No, it was not a seriously morose discussion. We talk about morbid stuff a lot.
But after some discussion, the basic question was distilled down to — “Would you rather die alone or have a bunch of people – family, friends, whoever – sitting by your bedside watching you breathe your final breaths and break free of the bonds of your earthly coil?”
I know this is a serious matter to some folks. I guess I don’t understand why anyone would be comforted by a bunch of people watching you die, even if you dearly loved them. I mean, why would you want their last memory of you to be a memory of you sucking in your last breath?
Anyway, I think I would rather people remember me walking down the street wearing my old, beat-up, sweat-stained baseball cap, or me at a ball game, or me on the computer, or me eating a bagel than gasping my last allotted breaths in some stuffy, sick-smelling, darkened room.
And all those thoughts reminded me of an old man in the family. He would never talk about his own demise, nor make any plans for his own death. No burial plot. No funeral plans. No pre-paid funerals for that old man.
And I know that a lot of people don’t like to talk about death. Or think about death. It’s not one of my favorite things to think about, but it is part of life just like birth and hamburgers.
The old man was thirty years older than me. And he swore to me that he was going to outlive me just to spite me. He didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him – but he was related to me – and sometimes there’s no way to sever those kinds of bonds.
Anyway, as we both grew older, I began to think this guy was going to keep his promise… outlive me and you-know-what on my grave. He was in his nineties and still spitting fire and vitriol. And, creepily, still trying to come on to young women. And sad to say, I’m not making this up.
He finally got so old he could not take care of himself, so they (the caring part of the family) put him in a nursing home – where to me he was “out of sight and out of mind”.
You think I’m cruel, don’t you? How would you feel about someone who said they were going to outlive you just so they could you-know-what on your grave? Come on, be honest!
Please give me some credit. This guy was a thorn in my side. When we were both younger, he tried to tell me how to raise my kids. You would not know what bad advice that was unless you saw what his parenting did to his kids. And I won’t even go into that. But let’s just say this guy was not a model parent. I don’t think he ever did anything with his five kids other than annoy them.
I had to deal with this man every Christmas. Even though he hated me he used to corner me and ramble on and on about his career at Ford. Come to think of it, I guess it was his way of trying to ruin my Christmases.
He ended up taking a liking to one of my sons – he thought they were swell pals.
So, I took advantage of that – I’m not nice, am I? I used to maneuver around the room at Christmas so I was sitting between two other people who I either liked or could tolerate – and left my son isolated with the old man. My son, being a lot nicer than me, and a lot younger, pretended to listen as the old man regaled him with stories of his life in the factory.
Did I feel bad? Well, sort of — but I always remembered to thank my son for being kind and letting the old windbag entertain him.
My oldest son is so nice – he would do these kinds of things.
So, finally, the old man is in the nursing home, but still very much alive and kicking. And I’m really thinking he’s going to outlive me and you-know-what on my grave. The guy is like 30 years older than me; I’m seriously worried he’s going to keep his promise.
It was his nastiness and his mission that drove me to a decision. And that decision was to make sure I was cremated. Yes! Torch me and scatter – throw – my ashes along the forest trail, where I found much pleasure and solace during my earthly tenure.
Not only did the cremation option sound like an effective way of avoiding him you-know-whating on my grave, but it also sounded much better than having people messing around with my plump dead, old body, pumping it full of chemicals and sticking me in a $5000 box, so people can look at me and say, “Doesn’t he look natural?”. God forbid! I wouldn’t look natural – I would look decidedly dead.
Anyway, I digress. The old man was now ninety-eight and still kicking. At least I didn’t have to visit him or put up with his Christmas needling. But do you know what? Every time someone I knew would visit him – and there were few — they’d tell me that he asked about me. Oh, yes, I’m sure he did, He was hoping I had croaked so he could smile in shallow victory.
The big 100th birthday was not far away. And I knew when it came, I would have to make an appearance. I could see newspaper stories and local TV coverage – “LOCAL MAN CELEBRATES HIS 100th BIRTHDAY”.
I could picture it all in my mind. He would make sure I was in the picture and put his arm around me – as if he liked me. Ha! I knew better. But the TV and newspaper would not make that clear. This was the man, who promised to outlive me just so he could do you-know-what on my grave.
As the big birthday approached, I’ll admit I was getting worried. But just two days before the big event, the old man died. He would not outlive me, and he would not you-know-what on my grave. A sigh of relief.
A little guilt too.
I could have been nicer to him – even though he was not nice to me. I could have withstood his annual Christmas regale-a-thons, instead of making my son endure them. But it’s hard to think nice thoughts about someone who wants to outlive you and you-know-what on your grave.
Anyway, I went to his funeral and paid my respects. But I couldn’t help whispering…”You didn’t outlive me…and you won’t do anything on my grave”.
I’m sorry but death is the great equalizer, isn’t it?