How a practical book on death turned into a passing fancy

I’ve been telling people what I want when I die for years. When I was 40, 50, maybe even 60, I said I wanted a Catholic Mass with incense and music, specifically “I’m here, Lord” and “On the wings of an eagle.”

I said I wanted to be buried in my favorite white blouse (it was cotton and lace and pretty. I bought it in Mexico when I was in my 30s and kept it in my closet even though I almost immediately passed it on. I told my kids to cut my back and bury me in it, anyway. ) I said I wanted an open casket (so people could see the blouse) and a wake up from 2pm to 4pm, then 6pm to 8pm, because standing up and greeting people from 4-8 without a dinner break is torture.

I also said I wanted to be buried at Canton Corner Cemetery (I bought two). And to have a post-burial party at my house. (Finger sandwiches and wine.)

But that was then. Now that I’m grown up, I didn’t want any of these things (except for the Canton Corner Cemetery part). That’s why I bought the book: Putting Things Right.

I planned to answer all questions immediately. I came home from Maine, talked about the book, and showed it to everyone who stopped by. But I didn’t write anything down, not even my name, despite the fact that I took all the long months of the COVID-19 lockdown to complete it.

Last Sunday, I decided today was the day. No more procrastination. I’m going to fill in “I’m dead. What now?” Book now. I grabbed my favorite pen, sat down at the kitchen table, and started writing.

But not for long. They weren’t the questions I wanted answered. Legal name And the maiden name And the phone numbers And the Important documents And the What to pay and what to cancel. and meinsurance policies And the hidden valuables All the important questions, I know. But it is not important to me.

“My Social Security card is in _____ (fill in the blank)” was the tenth question.

My Social Security Card? The one I got at Quincy Square when I was 14? Am I required to have this? I checked the sturdy box, where I keep the old papers and found my wedding menu. (Chicken soup from soup to nuts was $4.75 per person) and a letter from George Bush (original, not W) but no Social Security card. I checked the box under my bed where I kept President Kennedy’s memorabilia. But it wasn’t there either.

Book closed. Then see the tab that says “My Wishes”.

At the same time I bought the phrase “I’m dead. What now?” My friend Louis Edgerley is dead. I don’t know how lucky I was to have Lewis as a friend. She was older, wiser, kind and gentle. She led by example, and did not guide me in any obvious way. But I learned a lot from it.

At her memorial service, her granddaughter played guitar and sang “The Glory of Love”. Played quietly and simply. It was deep. Of all the songs I’ve heard at funerals – and I’ve attended many funerals – this is the one that moved me.

Writing about my “Wishes,” I thought of Louis: I don’t want to wake up, I want a party. I don’t want a funeral, I want a celebration. I don’t want church songs, I want to show tunes, ‘What I Did for Love’ and old tunes, ‘What a Wonderful World’ sung by all my singer friends, and something for John Denver, maybe ‘Goodbye Again’, or my son and grandson played ‘that guitar old,” and raised goblets full of Prosecco, people laughing and telling tales. And pictures are everywhere. Perhaps he wrote, too. Take a book home and remember me.

I’m not sure, even if I lived to age 100, I’d complete the phrase “I’m dead. What now?” The book, though I know I have to. It’s the ultimate place for everything: personal information, medical information, important documents, and what beneficiaries can expect.

But if I don’t? And if I can’t find my Social Security card? will not be important. What matters is what I learned from Lewis. What matters are the shared memories in the photos, stories and song.

Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. It can be accessed at bev@beverlybeckham.com.