The trouble with having an imagination is that you imagine things.
I've been planning my husband's funeral for thirty six years. I know where it will be and what we will wear. The clothing choice has evolved. Now he buys tailor-made suits instead of cast-offs from the Goodwill. Mine still come from second hand shops, but they are embellished by artists.
My husband isn’t sick or old, and I'm not mad at him. It’s what I do when he's late coming home and I decide he's dead... killed by a random sniper, or a brain aneurism popped and paralyzed him while driving. I never think about the other people in these scenarios. All I see is me crying and holding his lifeless body.
Before cell phones it was bad. Now it's worse. I am quicker to think something is wrong if he doesn’t call, or answer when I call him. If he is very late, I think I feel his spirit in the room. While I wait for the Police Officer's knock on the door, I work on my plan to survive this.
His funeral will be at the theater where he once worked as an actor. The theater company no longer exists, but the building does and is rented out for performances. They have a great sound system. As guests arrive our songs are played-the ones we dance to when alone... James Taylor’s “You Are My Only One” and Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and Minnie Ripperton’s “Loving You”. I don’t care that it has the cheesy feel of a Lifetime movie. If it makes everyone cry, we’ll have Kleenex.
My son, the actor and playwright, is the master of ceremonies. People whisper how much he looks like his father. I sit between my daughter and daughter-in-law. Grandchildren climb in our laps when they see us cry. Friends read poems by Robert Hayden for him and Gibran’s “The Prophet” for me. A Persian friend chants. Others offer prayers in English. Friends tell stories. Pictures are shown on a big screen and the youngest grandson yells "Papa!" A few laugh and then it is silent.
Sacred readings affirm the indestructible nature of the soul, worlds beyond this one and the analogy of a bird breaking loose from its cage to fly skyward. I force myself to remember that I believe his body was inconsequential. Our love remains.
After the funeral, and after I have assured everyone I am doing fine and am ready to be alone, I will visit animal shelters and adopt as many dogs and cats as city ordinances allow, so wherever I go in the house, something other than me will breathe.
It will be sad, but I will be okay...
When my husband walks through the door, he laughs at my over the top greeting. "Planning my funeral again? Woman, what's wrong with you?" I explain this is not morbid; it’s practice for the inevitable. He refuses to participate in something so useless. “Honey, there is no preparing for this.”
The only preparation he has done is bought a fireproof vault for important papers and created a full-service on-line banking account he claims any fool can do. Boring.
Two years ago I was at my father-in-law’s funeral and stood at the open coffin. It felt awkward. People came up and touched him, but I didn’t. This was not him. No matter how the makeup was applied or the hair combed he did not look right; there was unnatural stillness. He always moved. Always. He was a toe tapper, finger snapper, pop up and down man, who laughed when he saw you, asked how you were, and caught the answer on his way out the door. No one expected more of him.
It was my mother-in law we came to visit, and talk with for hours and hours. It was for her that we all came for his funeral. And it was her screams that startled.
Everyone reacted, but I got there first. I stayed next to her and kept the funeral director’s wife and sister away. They held fans, waiting to help but they didn’t know her. I am the favorite daughter-in-law. She says this aloud even if the others can hear. There are three sons and there have been eight daughters-in-law. I am the only original, and gained favored status by default. She didn’t want her son to marry me. “Hard enough being a black man in America. Why make it harder by marrying a white woman?” She still says this, but now laughs. “Some things are beyond our control, but they turn out okay.”
When our son was born she used it as an excuse to take a break from her husband. She was tired of this man-child. But if she left him, he wouldn't survive. There are some things you just know and this was one of them.
After sixty three years, my mother-in-law was free of keeping her husband safe from himself. He died in April and I thought she would come visit friends and family in Chicago. She could spend late spring and summer with us. But she wasn't ready yet. And two years later, she still won’t leave her house. She says she needs familiar surroundings. She doesn’t know who she is without him.
If my mother-in-law, who has had a life of continuous struggle and proclaimed their marriage her biggest mistake, says this is the hardest thing she has ever done, how silly of me to think I am prepared.
But what I never told my husband, or anyone else, is believing if I imagine this, it will never happen.