I did have one more interesting conversation at my neighbor’s birthday party with a fellow guest, who, after she presented our neighbor with his birthday present (a new bathrobe), came and sat down next to me on the couch.
For lack of a better way of starting up a conversation, I complimented her on her choice of gifts.
“Yes,” she said, “I decided to give him a hospital robe.”
I must have looked alarmed, thinking she knew something about his health that I didn’t, so she hastened to explain her remark.
“Well, you know how, when you give an older person a robe or a really nice set of pajamas, they always say, ‘Oh, good, I’m gonna save this just in case I have to go to the hospital?’ ”
But apparently she did. From the way she was talking, it sounded like she pretty much spent all of her time outfitting elderly people for intensive hospital stays.
“As a matter of fact,” she said, “my Uncle Bernie actually set aside a robe to be buried in.”
Aha-now this was something I could relate to.
“Well,” I said, “it might have been that he was just trying to save people from having to make that decision for him after he died.”
She looked unconvinced, which was great for me because it meant that I got to tell this story:
“Ten years ago this summer my family gathered to say goodbye to my grandmother, who was dying of cancer. Her wish was that when she died, she simply be wrapped in a white sheet before she was placed in her coffin. This was simple, and beautiful, and did not at all take into consideration the fact that this would require there to be A Person In Charge Of Sheets. Since my mom is the oldest child in her family, and I am the oldest child in my family, this duty fell to the two of us.
So we headed off to the local Giant Shopping Mart, but unfortunately there was no section labeled, “Linens for the Soon-To-Be-Deceased”, or, “Easy Coffin Accessories”, so we were forced to stand in the middle of the sheet and towel aisle and have the following conversation:
“Do you think a queen sized sheet will be big enough to wrap all the way around the body?”
“I dontt know. I think it depends on whether the body is laid end-to-end or diagonally.
“Will a top sheet be enough to wrap the body in, or do you think we need a fitted sheet too?”
“Why the heck are there so many freaking choices for ‘a white sheet’? I know Grammie’s dying of cancer and all, but I think she could have helped us our here by being a little bit more specific on her particular color preference.”
Now, my mom and I have spent a VERY large portion of our lives being the quintessential “good girls”, but we also watch an inordinate amount of crime and detective shows on television. We’ve never actually been “on the wrong side of the law” ourselves, but we do sort of feel like we are experts on what could take a person there. So as soon as we first uttered the words, “the body”, we felt like it was really only a matter of time until we set of some kind of Crime Alert Sensor and found ourselves face down and handcuffed right there on the floor of KMart.
However, while we were waiting for the S.W.A.T. team to come and take us down, we still had to pick out a sheet for the burial. Which meant that we had to continue pondering questions such as,
“Well, how many times do you think a king size sheet can wrap around a body?”
“How are we going to make sure that the body and the sheet stay together?”
Shockingly, we made it to the checkout counter without any evidence of an increased law enforcement presence, and were able to complete our purchase. At least, I think that’s what we did. Because by this time I had completely left my body, in preparation for enduring my likely prison stay, and was hovering somewhere in the vicinity of my left temple. So the end of this memory is a little fuzzy for me. I do think it involved extremely large amounts of therapeutic chocolate, however.
“So,” I concluded for the benefit of my fellow party guest, “it could be that your Uncle Bernie was just trying to spare you guys from having to go through something like that.”
I don’t think she was convinced. She left me pretty soon after that, and as we were leaving my husband remarked that she was “giving us a really funny look.”
I guess we’re not gonna be BFF’s anytime soon.