Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Funeral Bag*

*Before you judge what I am going to type on this post, please understand this is how I react to stress. In fact, my Aunt Kathleen that died this September had a funeral binder that went over every aspect of dying so that your family members knew exactly what you wanted. (I cannot locate the particular one she had but here is one called "If I croak". Not kidding)

BB is in the end stages of Alzheimer's. She could speak in March, she cannot now. She could eat birthday cake in May, she cannot swallow very well now. These are facts. They absolutely SUCK. But this is the reality we are dealing with. And my approach to a situation like this is to prepare. I write this post mainly for myself but hopefully it will resonate with others in this same position.

I am the person that starts packing for the beach a month out. I get this from my father. (Dad this is ALL your fault). I designate the dining room table to be "Beach Central" and start collecting things we want to bring in there. That same Aunt Kathleen used to bring a Uhaul to the house they rented in Litchfield. She would rearrange the entire house. It's in my blood.

Ever since the phone call I received in December 2014 that Mom had fallen down the stairs and was in a pool of blood, well I have been on alert. I missed that call because I was taking a shower at 11pm, a thing nursing mothers do because their free time is so sparse. I had 8 missed calls from my father. I am now glued to my phone. And I would be lying if I said that I didn't wince every time I see his number.

Preparation gives me peace. It gives me some aspect of control back over this horrible situation. And for a control freak....that's a win. If I have outfits prepared, a rough draft of an obituary, an idea of catering costs, flower ordering...etc...I can sleep better. My therapist says this is insane, and I totally agree, but try telling that to my mind and heart.

I just remember that when I had my Hospital Bag packed I felt ready. Ready for a baby that came three weeks early. I was obviously not ready for everything motherhood would throw at me or the delivery of Ford and Amelie, but having that bag packed by the mudroom door gave me a sense of peace.

I am lucky that I have another mother in my life, Alice Myer, that can help me with all of this. We have grown up at the same Church and she will know all the correct people to contact. (Dad will too but I want him on the deck listening to Bob Marley).

I want to know what I should wear, my kids should wear. Do I get my stepson to travel to Asheville for this? Do little kids wear black? I'll probably need a sitter for the week just to be an extra set of  hands. Do we wear black? Green was Mom's favorite color. Parking at my parents' house will be a b*tch. I already know the bartender (Love you Tracey). I've already read the bereavement policy at work. I'm assuming we will need Jessie May's biscuits and a caterer of some sort. And again...already concerned about parking. Then when it is time to place her in the Barlow tomb in New Orleans (and the garth at All Souls) do we all fly down? Boozy lunch at Galatoire's and a small service at the Cemetery? I have no idea how to do this. All of my grandparents died before I was two so death of immediate family members is very new to me.

I know it is morbid as hell, but this is how I work. I want a binder, I need an arsenal. I'm a doer, a bullet point princess.

If you have any tips for this phase of life (Or a gorgeous black dress) please email me or comment. 


  1. HI Katharine,
    Another well written post, you always impress me. I'm going to share this with my cousin - his mom, my dad's sister, is also suffering from dementia.Know he would appreciate your perspective.
    Also, I'm not sure Jessie Mae is making biscuits anymore (totally sucks). Apparently, she had a small stroke and her MD has encouraged her to really slow down. However, if you want me to find out for sure, I'm happy to.
    Hang in there

  2. It all makes sense to me. Clothes: would BB want to see her grandchildren in black? Would Beano? I don't think so; she was too joyful in her real life. The Barlow Interment and Gal's lunch sound perfect. The more people that come to either event, the better--this from my own mother's funeral.
    It's also a very Virgo thing to do, this preorganization--are you?
    Sending love


  3. Don't know you, but have followed for awhile. You should do whatever makes you feel best about the situation. I've been through this somewhat with my best friends dad. You do what it takes to survive it. No right or wrong here.

  4. Dear Katharine, I agree - another well written post!
    No I do not think you are crazy...just grieving! Do all of this planning in a way your Mom would like. If she would like you in a red dress - wear one! She would probably not want your children in BLACK but in something she would have bought for them. Serve her favorite foods and cocktails and play her favorite music. Remember she will always be with you because you, your brother, his children and yours are all part of her. So many great memories will be shared by your family and friends.
    My cousin, Ethel Jane Westfeldt Bunting- she was one of a kind - planned her own funeral down to the menu and the 2nd line parade with jazz was so her and quite a wonderful party.

  5. You know I'm in your back pocket with flowers Kat. Breaks my heart to even write this but you know I'm here, would be my honor to help.

  6. Darlin, your therapist is wrong, you're not crazy. You're an honorary military wife. :-)

    15 years ago Dave comes home from his first squadron with 4 sheets of paper for me to fill out--page 1. Who do I want knocking on my door? Phone numbers. Do you want a priest there? Donyou think you'll require medication? Who should contact his parents? Will they need medication? Where are his life insurance documents? Would you like him buried in a uniform? Which one? Where is it? Any special preferences for songs at the service? And on and on. The first time I got it I called my fellow spouse and bestie ranted, screamed, cried. But now when he comes home with another form to "update" its whatevs--"babe, I forget--cremation? I really think your mom will need medication."

    I've buried him in the shower, it's where I do my most morbid thinking. From the knock all the way to Amelia's wedding day--we binge on pictures and memories and cry our eyes out 3 days in advance so we're not puffy the day of, FYI. But I come out of the shower calm and ready with a plan. And I sleep well until the fear builds and I have to bury him in the shower again.

    The military calls the time before they deploy the "anticipation of grief" period. I'm sorry you're there. It's a terrible place to be.

  7. You are so NOT crazy! My mom sent all of us her wake/funeral wishes. What she will wear, readings, songs sung, etc. do not think for a minute that ever time she attends a funeral we get a revision, because, of course we do! My mom wants us in bright colors, celebrating the life she lived. She wants it in the obituary - please wear bright colors! She's assigned my daughter to have a box of scarves all bright and happy to lend to people who don't wear bright colors (true story!!). I've planned, rearranged, planned the menu time and time again. Weird? Probably, but it's me, it's how I run. I've set the menu for a week in august we have family at our summer house. Drives my husband insane. Keeps me sane. I say everyone handles things in their own way - just do you!!!! I had lunch with a friend yesterday who's mom recently passed away. She said while it was sad, she mourned her mom many years ago. She said once the brain tumor took over her mom was gone. This new mom wasn't her mom, just the shell of who she was. You are amazing!

  8. You aren't crazy, this is how you will cope. My husband is in law enforcement, so I have thought about this quite a lot. You have to answer these questions- who do you want to come to the house, speak at the service, etc.

    Your Mom sounds like someone who would have wanted a joyful party. Do what you and your family feel comfortable doing and forget what anyone thinks.

  9. Although no one can understand another's turmoil, they can relate. I've lost both my parents and it's terribly difficult.
    Do what makes you feel like you have a hint of control in a uncontrollable situation.
    My thoughts are with you.

  10. I agree, you are not crazy at all. You are mentally preparing yourself for a very scary, sad situation. I am lucky that both of my parents are alive and well but my maternal grandmother had Alzheimers and my mom processed the situation by planning ahead so she could find relief, control, and closure. Sending you lots of RBC love!

  11. I am the same, I like to be prepared. Your children should be allowed to wear what they are comfortable in, plus maybe decide depending on their age if they want to go. You do not have to wear black yourself If green is your Mom's favorite color where it to honor her.

  12. Everyone handles death differently. Thank you for sharing your experience, our Provenzano Lanza Funeral Home teams loves to keep track of articles that could help the families we serve in the community.