When my sister, Lee, died, my mother had already had a blood pressure problem for quite some time. She gave me her checkbook to make the arrangements, then headed to her doctor for a consultation. Concerned she would have a stroke, and I suggested she ask for "something" to get her through the next few days. That "something" turned out to really be something!
My other sister, Abby, and I headed to the funeral home to make the arrangements. Lee's ex-husband with whom she lived refused to go---he was afraid he might be expected to pay for something. We chose the motorcycle theme memorial cards and mourner book and decided to have a service celebrating her life, not mourning her death. We decided on a viewing and cremation then we headed to her home to collect her clothes.
Lee was a leather flaunting, boot wearing biker babe. For that reason, we chose a pair of jeans, her Harley Davidson shirt and a leather vest that had pins of the various bike events they attended over the years. My former brother-in-law's mother was there. She was 75 years old or so. The woman had the nerve to say, "You're not burying her with that vest? That was $150. I'm small enough, it will fit me. Be sure to let me have it after the viewing."
Yep, you read correctly, the woman asked for the vest off my dead sister's body!
So I made some huge picture boards to display and needed a music playlist. I asked my brother for his music collection, and his response was:
"You're not playing The Who and Black Sabbath at this thing are you? Funerals are supposed to be traditional."
I replied, "She wasn't a traditional person.
"He scoffed, "She'd have a live f@#$ing band there if she could."
"EXACTLY! So why are you arguing with me on this?"
So we created a playlist of everything from The Who and Rolling Stones to Guns N Roses. We played her favorite song, Freebird. Now I kinda regret not getting that band. She would have really liked that. I even went and bought a Guns N Roses concert shirt to wear to the viewing. Lee loved Slash. My mother rolled her eyes at that gesture, but by the end of the night, Mom wouldn't have notice.
The first person other than immediate family to arrive at the viewing was a huge guy with shaved head and a goatee. He must have been six foot seven or so. He wore a leather vest with the word "Shovelhead" on the back. Abby said, "My god, that guy is huge. They must have used a whole cow to make that guy's vest." Thoughts drifted through my mind of this guy whacking someone in the head with a shovel and burying them. I didn't know until later that Shovelhead is a motorcycle engine.
People filed in, and as they looked over the pictures they laughed and pointed. They remembered the good times, which is what I wanted. A few of her friends asked me, "Where were these taken? She's wearing dress clothes... we never saw her in dress clothes." A look of shock stretched across their faces.
I laughed, "That is 'cause she didn't have any. Those belong to our other sister." Then I scanned the family photos. Christenings, weddings, Communions... ever single picture... 50 different events or so.. and in every picture, Lee was wearing Abby's outfits and my mother's dress shoes. I heard a rumble outside and looked out the window. Harley Davidson cycles were roaring in the parking lot. Motorists were "doing doughnuts" and tires schreeched. A cloud of pot smoke hovered above the bikes. Again, I smiled, knowing this was exactly what Lee would have wanted.
A nicely dressed man approached me, wiping his hand on his shirt. "Hi, I'm related to her husband. I'd shake your hand, but it smells like pot from all the shaking I've been doing tonight." He smiled. "I'm a federal officer, and hoping their smoking doesn't get absorbed into my skin. That wouldn't be good." It was pretty evident this guy was more like my family than the bikers that surrounded us. He explained to me that he washed his hands five times already. I had not noticed, but took a sniff and realized my hands were encased in pot smell... first their first time ever.
Then the crazy mother-in-law showed up again. Again she asked me for the vest. At this point I must have been upset and waving my hands in the air. My oldest sister, Dina, came running over, "I saw your Italian side coming out with the hand flapping.. so I figured I would come over." She pulled the woman away, and the witch went to talk to my mother.
My mother was so high on prescribed medication, she was laughing and smiling. Mom never did any sort of drugs or alcohol. In my whole life, I only saw her take two drinks at Dina's wedding in 1989. The Ativan made her so high, and I almost could here Lee laughing, "Rock on, Momma! That stuff's good, isn't it?" Mom asked me at one point if I brought a camera, as if it was a party. In some respects it was a party, just the way Lee would have wanted.
When the mother-in-law asked my mom for the vest off my dead sister's body, my mom told her, "Aren't you the one who wanted to pull the plug on your son? My daughter did all the things to take care of him that you didn't want to do. You know, bathed him, taught him to walk and talk. Gave him enemas and then cleaned up the blow-outs when he couldn't control his bowels. Since you have the nerve to ask for my daughter's clothes off her back, why don't you just take the casket and flowers home too. Maybe you can plant them in your garden."
At the end of the service, everyone said their last goodbyes, then I waited for all to turn away before searching the casket. I just knew someone would put a bag of pot in there, and I was right. That last touch really put a stamp of approval of what my sister would have wanted. Lee whined in my ear, "Oh come on, I was hoping they would put it in the oven with me. I wanted one last puff! How cool would that be?"
Dead at 47, Lee lived her life without fear. She did what she wanted, went where she wanted, and allowed no one to tell her no. If someone did, she found a way around it, or under it. Or she rid that person from her life and found someone new. She didn't have kids, so she had no one to answer for or to. She refused to be cut into a mold of who people thought she should be. She nursed her husband back to health after his accident out of desire, not out of obligation.
Lee lived every day as if it were her last... and in the end, even her funeral was a party and celebration of life. She finally got my mother high, too. If you take nothing more from any of my writing, then take this:
Live Like You're Dying, because you are.--- Let the people you care about know it. Laugh off stress and bills. Play with your children now. Work to survive, but don't survive to work. Perhaps if you're lucky, people will celebrate your life once you are gone. If you are really lucky, you won't have a sister like me who then posts you life online LOL